Across nearly six full seasons in the NBA, Marcus Smart has played roughly a fourth of his minutes at the point guard position. He’s never been a primary facilitator with no more than 4.8 assists per game in any season. Only seven times in his career has he passed 10 assists in a single game.
Boston’s 122-119 victory over Orlando on Sunday was one of the rare times Smart looked comfortable setting up shots for others. He finished with a team-high nine assists to just one turnover in 31 minutes of action.
Some of those nine certainly stretched the definition of a textbook dime, where the recipient seemed to do more of the grunt work to set up a made basket. More than enough, however, were the result of Smart’s vision and IQ that could help solve some of Boston’s issues behind Kemba Walker.
Robert Williams has showcased a knack for creating vertical space near the rim in his limited NBA playing time. Against an athletically grounded big man like Nikola Vucevic, the Timelord was bound for takeoff at some point against the Magic.
Midway through the first quarter, a double screen for Smart sees Jayson Tatum pop out to the 3-point line while Williams dart to the bucket. As Smart turns the corner, Vucevic and Williams are side by side. No matter how high, a lob wouldn’t work at this moment because Williams lacks the proper space to both take off and land.
Smart doesn’t get Vucevic to physically commit as he nears the free throw line. Instead, he holds the former All-Star’s attention with a slight hesitation, just long enough to allow Williams to get behind and easily finish the one-handed lob with no contest.
Walker’s minutes restriction kept him off the court in the overtime session, placing a good chunk of the playmaking duties in the hands of Smart. On the Celtics’ last offensive possession, they’re stuck trying to make something from nothing. In this instance, that means a Tatum screen for Smart in the middle of the court going left, where a between-the-legs crossover gets Smart by Gary Clark.
When Tatum sets the screen, Daniel Theis is sitting on the right-wing 3-point line, but his defender, Vucevic, is completely focused on the top-of-the-key action, not the worst strategy when guarding a sub-par outside shooter. Except by the time Smart gets to the bucket, Theis has made his way to just outside the restricted area, sneaking behind a defender whose eyes never paid any attention to his primary matchup.
Smart picks up his dribble perhaps one too early and wants to get a pass over the head of Vucevic and into the hands of Theis for an easy layup. Vucevic’s vertical hand placement send Smart into a momentary mid-air pause. He quickly counters by sweeping the ball to the left side of his head allowing for easy entry to Theis for a layup that puts Boston up five with just over 30 seconds remaining.
The steady minutes increase is encouraging and nobody in the organization would publicly say otherwise, but Kemba’s knee remains a concern for a team looking to make a deep playoff run. Brad Wanamaker has been a suitable backup in small doses but isn’t ready to assume more responsibilities in his first real taste of the postseason.
Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward have all impressed in point forward roles. They have enough to worry about considering how much Boston relies on the trio to put points on the board.
Smart is no full-time point guard. He’s a sub-par pick-and-roller and Boston’s offense ranks in the 38th percentile during his PG minutes — per Cleaning The Glass. But the win over Orlando indicates some spot minutes wouldn’t be the worst thing for Brad Stevens to roll with.