Boston Celtics fans can’t agree on Marcus Smart.
For the entirety of his career, we have either loved him or hated him, sometimes all those feelings are in one single possession. Those who loved him from the get-go never changed their mind, and the same goes for those who hated him.
In fact, according to data from Action Network, Smart received the biggest percentage of negative tweets last season out of any player in the NBA - 41.03% of tweets about him were negative. That’s almost three percent more than Draymond Green and nearly five percent higher than Ben Simmons.
Through all of the hate, however, Smart has played on. There have been some ups and downs, and when he was named the starting point guard of the Celtics, a lot of people were unhappy. Some even called for him to transition back into a sixth-man role when Malcolm Brogdon joined the team. But despite some early struggles, Smart is now playing the best basketball of his career.
Over the course of Boston’s six-game win streak, Smart is averaging 10.7 points, 2.5 rebounds, 8.2 assists, and 1.3 steals while shooting 45.6% from the field and 37.9% from three-point land. All while turning the ball over just 1.3 times per game.
For the better part of the last year, fans and media members alike have been clamoring for the Celtics to sign “a real point guard.” The Celtics went 28-7 to end the year, Smart won Defensive Player of the Year, and they made a run to the NBA Finals. Still, the calls for a point guard kept coming in.
Well, if people weren’t convinced enough last year, they should be now.
This season, there are only three players in the NBA averaging seven or more assists and less than two turnovers per game - Chris Paul, Mike Conley, and Smart. Paul is widely regarded as one of the best point guards of all time, and Conley is a one-time All-Star who has been the lead point guard on nine playoff teams.
Many saw the addition of Brogdon as the sign for Smart to return to the bench after two seasons as a full-time starter. But rather than overshadow Smart’s point guard play, Brogdon has allowed Smart to buy into the role even further.
One of the main complaints about Smart’s game over the years has been that he shoots the ball too much. And while it’s already been proven that he doesn’t consistently take the bad shots that most claim he does, now, he’s been freed to take on a smaller offensive load altogether, allowing him to fully focus on playmaking.
The point guard is attempting 9.5 shots per game this season, which would mark his lowest total since the 2018-19 season when he took 7.1 per game. (And that roster was notable for having too many mouths to feed on offense.)
Of his 9.5 shots, 5.4 are three-pointers. And while that may not sound ideal, as Smart has never been a great shooter, 4.9 of those threes are classified as open or wide open, which means that they are coming within the flow of the offense (which just so happens to be the best offense in the NBA). Joe Mazzulla is on record saying that “nothing good happens when you pass up the first [open] shot,” and that goes for Smart, too. Plus, he’s shot 35.3% from deep over the last seven games.
Smart’s passing ability has really shone through this year, too He’s Boston’s leader on the offensive end, finding guys on cuts and running the pick-n-roll beautifully. Check out this gorgeous dish to Grant Williams on the roll.
Another piece of the puzzle that has come together nicely this year is Jayson Tatum’s cutting. Smart and Tatum have developed a great chemistry within the offense, and it usually leads to easy buckets very early in the game.
Opposing defenses are so worried about defending Tatum on the perimeter that they’re caught off guard when he makes a quick cut to the basket. While Tatum deserves credit for adding that to his game, Smart has been great at getting him the ball at the perfect time.
Watch this play. Tatum and Al Horford fake a double screen for Brown. Dillon Brooks and Desmond Bane are so focused on picking them up across the picks that they get completely fooled when Tatum dashes toward the rim. Smart hits him with a stunning alley-oop pass for the finish.
And the best part about Smart’s improved playmaking is that it still comes with the same hustle plays he’s become known for. He won DPOY last year for his leadership, perimeter defense, and hustle, and none of that has changed.
Here’s a play that perfectly sums up Smart.
The hustle, the save, the assist.
If all of that isn’t enough evidence for Smart’s impact as a playmaker, here’s one final stat.
According to PBP Stats, only six different Celtics duos have thrown 10 or more assists to each other so far this year. Tatum to Horford (11 assists), Tatum to Brown (12 assists), Brown to Tatum (11 assists), and Derrick White to Tatum (11 assists) are the first four.
The last two? Both Smart. And they’re not even on the same planet as the others.
He has dished out 31 assists to Tatum and 29 to Brown, accounting for 75 and 70 points, respectively. That means Smart has assisted on 23.0% of Tatum’s makes (135) this year and 28.9% of Brown’s (112).
Both of those combinations rank second and fifth in the NBA. The other four combos are Tyrese Haliburton to Buddy Hield (36 assists), Jamal Murray to Nikola Jokic (31 assists), and Mike Conley to Lauri Markkanen (30 assists).
Not only has Smart decreased his scoring role, kept up his iconic hustle defense, and improved upon his role as a playmaker, but he’s also developed a top-notch connection with Boston’s stars.
Despite the constant pushback, Smart is the Celtics’ point guard, and he’s been elite in that role this season.