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CelticsBlog exit interview: Marcus Smart

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Boston Celtics v Miami Heat - Game Six Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

Full disclaimer: Marcus Smart is by far my favorite player of all time. Yes, I root for and write about a team that has seen the likes of Larry Bird, Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, Tommy Heinsohn, John Havlicek, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo (I know...I know), and Kevin Garnett all walk through that proverbial door. With all that being said, that doesn’t change the fact that rooting for Marcus Smart has been the most fun I’ve had as a fan of this franchise.

Keeping that in mind, it’s story time.

The scene: Marcus Smart had just gotten fined by the NBA for criticizing the referees after they let Giannis Antetokounmpo stay in the game despite 8 fouls. The next game against Portland, a call was made that some would consider unfavorable to Smart and would certainly warrant more postgame comments from Smart. I tweeted a relatively innocent tweet without even tagging him. And then my favorite NBA player of all time responded:

The exchange continued on for a bit, but it ended up with Smart liking a picture of my fiancée. We had been engaged for just two weeks. To me, that was just incredibly cool.

All of this is to say that rooting for Marcus Smart the player has been a blast because of Marcus Smart the person. Any lens I look at him through, his personality is the first thing that pops out to me, and that’s special for me as both a fan and as someone covering the team. Yes, I know this all reads very fan-y, but if I’m being honest, that’s the first thing that popped out to me this season.

After that thought went through my mind, I thought of how Smart essentially was Boston’s second-best player for a large majority of the postseason. Given how the roster is constructed, that’s far from ideal. Another way to look at it, though, is that if Smart hadn’t stepped up, how far would the team have advanced?

There are many valid concerns over how Marcus Smart hijacked the offense in the Toronto and Miami series, but at least in the former, that was bred out of necessity. Kemba Walker went from All-Star point guard to a shell of himself very quickly in the second round (and we can speculate over a number of reasons why, but that’s a post for another day), and Toronto was specifically scheming for Jaylen Brown to shoot at a high volume. With Jayson Tatum continuing to put up superstar performances, someone else had to step up and Smart did.

Marcus Smart probably overstepped his bounds in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat. No, that’s not why the team lost, although it did play a role. Yes, Smart’s success against Toronto emboldened him to take shots that just didn’t fall against their next opponent, but someone had to take those shots. Given how the season ended, it’s easy to focus on the bricks that didn’t fall that played a part in Boston’s downfall, but last season stretched out almost 11 months, so it’s appropriate to evaluate the entire year.

First of all, Marcus Smart repeated as a First Team All-Defense selection. The rest of the world has accepted and recognized Smart’s aptitude on the defensive end, but I’m still trying to spread the good news about his offensive prowess as a pick-and-roll passer and league-average shooter, but alas, that hasn’t been as readily accepted.

For the season, Marcus Smart averaged a career-high 12.9 points, 3.8 rebounds, and a career-high 4.9 assists. He did this shooting 37.5% from the field, 34.7% from the 3-point line on a career-high 6.6 attempts per game, and a career-high 83.6% from the free-throw line. Smart also averaged 1.7 steals per game – the second-best number of his career – along with a career-high 0.5 blocks.

That’s a lot of career-highs.

In the playoffs, Smart continued the trend of career bests. He averaged a playoff career-high 14.5 points, a playoff career-high of 5.2 rebounds, and 4.6 assists in 17 playoff games in which he started all but Game 1 of the first round. He shot 39% from the field in the playoffs and 33% from 3 as well as a playoff career-high 87.5% from the free-throw line. This is all on more volume and usage than he’s ever had in the playoffs, and his production scaled up with it. Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semis was Marcus Smart’s first career playoff triple-double and just his second overall.

Boston Celtics v Miami Heat - Game Six Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

From an advanced stats perspective, Smart was a career-high +7.1 on the court, which is the best mark of his career. Smart also posted career-highs in box plus/minus as well as VORP (value over replacement player). Additionally, this season was Smart’s best season in ‘ol reliable PER (13.8).

As for his contract, Marcus Smart (age 25) has two seasons left on his deal. He’ll earn $12.9 million next season and $13.8 million in 2021-2022. He’s a bargain and for you armchair GM’s cracking your knuckles before the offseason, it makes no sense to trade Marcus Smart now while he’s still producing on both sides of the ball.

As a Smart fan, my hope is that he remains with the team for the rest of his career. The only time it makes sense to move on from Smart is if Boston goes star chasing in 2023 to try to make Tatum happy at all costs because the team hadn’t won a title yet. At that point, re-signing Smart in 2022 would hamper the team’s options in signing a big-name player.

Besides that scenario, keeping Smart and re-signing him at a nice mid-level contract would be good way to keep an already successful team together for the next half decade at least. Last summer, my stance was build around the Jays and Marcus Smart. That’s still my stance, and with three Eastern Conference Finals appearances in the last four years (yes, I know those were different teams), there’s at least some validity in that reasoning.

The Boston Celtics are really in a great position for next year and beyond. They just have to play their cards right and surround the core with more mature talent. But no matter what the Celtics do moving forward, I’m pretty convinced that Marcus Smart should be a part of it.