The Boston Celtics guard positions are teeming with elite-level talent following the addition of Malcolm Brogdon this summer. Initially, when Brogdon was acquired, Marcus Smart’s position within the starting five began to look rather tenuous, primarily because of Brogdon’s natural playmaking ability and three-level scoring threat.
However, shortly after the 29-year-old’s arrival, he went on to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski’s podcast and explained how Brad Stevens had sold him on becoming the Celtics 6th man - a role which is hallowed ground within the TD Garden following the team’s litany of star bench players throughout the course of time.
“Brad did have a conversation with my agent and talked about me coming to Boston and embracing a 6th man role. And for me, I’ve made a lot of money, I’ve won a lot in Milwaukee, and I’ve won some in Indiana, but I really want to get back to winning at a high level. I wanna win a championship. So whatever I can sacrifice, to get back to that championship level, I’m willing to do it and compete,” Brogdon said.
Throughout the Celtics' first three preseason games, we’ve seen the Atlanta native embrace his new role, coming off the bench to provide a spark that Boston’s second unit was sorely missing during the postseason. Of course, basketball doesn’t employ hockey-style substitution patterns and line changes, so there have been times when Smart and Brogdon have shared the court together — and the results are encouraging.
It can’t be easy, coming from a system where you’re the primary ball handler, and suddenly having to adapt to being a supporting actor off the bench — especially when the starting guard is as vocal and intense as Smart, and the rest of the core rotation have come into the new season with a business-like attitude. Yet, when speaking to the media following an October 12 practice session, Brogdon was quick to quell any concerns about his continued willingness to come off the bench, while also noting how Smart is the ideal lead guard for this Celtics team.
“He’s a great guy. Always spirited, always positive, and always willing to hold guys accountable. He’s the leader and the type of point guard you want for a team like this. So, to be able to work with him and play with him, it’s going to be great.”
Last season was the first year in which Smart was entrusted with orchestrating the offense as the starting point guard, following failed attempts to make things work with scoring guards such as Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker. Early results were mixed as Smart adapted to more of a facilitator role and Jayson Tatum struggled with his increased ball-handling duties. However, over time, Smart grew into a reliable and impactful point guard, finding the balance between scoring and facilitating while never taking his foot off the gas on the defensive end.
Still, moving Smart to that starting role was part of Ime Udoka’s vision for how he wanted the Celtics to play, and the type of robust two-way team he envisioned creating during his tenure. So, once Udoka was suspended for the season, and Joe Mazzulla was appointed as the team’s interim head coach, it was only fair to question whether Smart would continue in his starting role.
However, from what we’ve seen in Mazzulla’s first three games, nothing is going to change for the Oklahoma native — he’s simply too valuable to what Boston is trying to do, and proved his value within the starting unit by helping lead the team to within two games of an NBA championship.
“I trust Marcus completely, on both ends of the floor. And I think he’s an important piece for us in every aspect of the offense. He’s done a great job of knowing how he can impact the game, with and without the ball. We’ve asked all of our guys to be able to do that, but I trust him completely...He (Smart) told me what it (his role) was going to be. Me and Smart have had great conversations, we’re both point guards, and both been around each other for a long time. So, our conversations are about how can we affect the game on both ends of the floor. And he’s done a great job of focusing on that, and I fully trust him to make the right play,” Mazzulla said.
Simply put, the longest tenured Celtic is now this team’s point guard, their leader, and the metronome to which the rest of the defense synchronizes.
With the new season set to begin next week on October 18 against the Philadelphia 76ers, Smart’s presence within the starting five is completely secure, and it’s clear he has the trust of the coaching staff, his teammates, and the fanbase. Now, bring on James Harden and Joel Embiid — we’re ready to get down to business.