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First to the Floor: missing Marcus Smart

Boston depth, but they can’t quite replace their longest standing Celtic.

Boston Celtics v New York Knicks Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

On this episode, Ben and Jake breakdown the Knicks game, the three-game losing streak, and lament the absence of the irreplaceable Marcus Smart. Gutted by Jalen Brunson, watching the Knicks regularly, and predicably, go left, you can’t help but wonder how valuable Marcus Smart would have been. Whether it’s a dig down from a help position, locking up Brunson, or bodying Julius Randle, the Celtics’ defense just isn’t the same without Marcus, and neither is the offense.

Smart’s offense has been much maligned for his questionable shot selection and inability to consistently pressure the rim, but those issues have largely been resolved as he’s gotten more comfortable as the Cs’ starting point guard. The offensive numbers without Smart speak for themselves. Per PBP Stats, the offense is about 5.5 points per 100 possessions worse when Marcus is off the court this year. When Smart plays without Tatum the offense scores at a bad, but not abominable, rate of 111.6 points per 100 possessions. When both Smart and Tatum sit, the Celtics score at a bad team from the early 2000’s level of 107.9 points per 100.

Marcus is far from an elite scorer, but he is the team’s best passer, and it’s not particularly close anymore. The team shoots almost 6% better from inside the arc when Marcus is on the floor compared to off. He combines pick-and-roll wizardry with patience and a willingness to pass, a combination no other Celtic possesses. Plenty of Celtics can run an efficient pick-and-roll — Brown, Tatum, and Brogdon especially — and plenty of Celtics are very willing passers like White, Timelord, and Horford. Smart is the only one that does both. Not only is he leading the team in assists and assist percentage, he’s also in the 86th percentile in pick-and-roll efficiency.

As the Celtics underwent their second long scoring drought last night, you’d be crazy not to think that things might have been just a little different with Marcus Smart on the court. The Jaylen/Brogdon minutes have continued to trend in the wrong direction, and the team has cratered when Jayson Tatum has sat during this losing streak.

Can Marcus run a highly efficient offense when Tatum is off the floor? Probably not, but he can certainly make sure the Celtics don’t fall off a cliff into the ocean, sink all the way to the bottom, and discover the lost city of Atlantis.

Hope you enjoy this episode, I know listening after a losing streak is tough, but sometimes you just need to hear someone complain. Thanks for the support and please subscribe to the Celticsblog podcast feed and the First to the Floor YouTube.

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