When Marcus Smart was traded to Memphis to bring in Kristaps Porzingis, there were questions regarding whether Malcolm Brogdon, Derrick White, and Payton Pritchard would be a good enough backcourt to get the job done. That concern intensified even more once Damian Lillard was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Bucks shot up to title favorites and the noise was whether or not Boston could handle the Bucks big three in Lillard, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Khris Middleton. Then Brad Stevens made another move acquiring Jrue Holiday from the Portland Trailblazers for Brogdon, Robert Williams, and draft picks.
Jrue brings leadership, championship experience, elite defense, and playmaking all while being one of the better teammates in the league; Holiday has won the NBA’s Twyman-Stokes Teammate of the Year Award three times in four years. Now in Boston, the Celtics are more than capable of going head-to-head with the Bucks.
Jrue has been labeled as the “perfect Smart replacement” and with the “heart and soul” of the team now in Memphis, Holiday is the ideal player to not only replicate what Smart brought to the Celtics, but to enhance it.
Despite both being two of the better perimeter defenders in the league, they have a good relationship off the court. In September 2022, Smart donated “Smart Carts” to Children’s Wisconsin in honor of Jrue.
On the Celtics Talk Podcast, Holiday talked about how he was “super happy” for Smart winning Defensive Player of the Year.
“Especially as a guard, I know what it’s like and how hard it is to guard 1-5 and not really get much credit for it,” Holiday said. “To see him do it has been awesome.”
Jrue who is two inches taller than Smart provides similar defense. Holiday said he will leave it all out there when asked what he’ll bring to Boston on the defensive side of the ball.
“I’m going to give you my all. I will give whatever it takes to lock up a defender… I will take on the challenge of any player of this league,” Holiday said.
The biggest difference between the two players is on the offensive end. In Holiday’s’ last three seasons with the Bucks, he’s averaging 18.4 points on 49.4% shooting (39.5% from deep). Smart shot 41% from the floor and 33.2% from deep.
Holiday is going from being the second option on the Bucks to the fourth option on the Celtics behind the Jays and Porzingis. Naturally, his scoring will take a dip, but his efficiency should stick around the high 40s and low 40s for three.
People grew frustrated with Smart’s shot selection and now the Celtics have a guard who gives similar defense to Marcus but is more reliable and consistent on offense. One of Holiday’s strengths is his ability to knock down step-back threes.
Last season, out of Jrue’s 6.1 three-point attempts per game, 4.3 of them were pull-up shots. Holiday connected on 36.1% of those threes.
Even at 33 years of age, Holiday can still create plenty of space with his quick feet and tight handle.
In the last two seasons, Holiday has shot 57.4% from shots inside 8 feet, 47.7% from 8-16 feet, and 42.9% from 16-24 feet. Compared to Smart who shot 55.3% (inside 8 feet), 44.6% (8-16 feet), and 25% (16-24 feet) respectively.
Smart’s game was never about scoring so when he attempted a heat check or tried his luck with a contested shot, it was met with frustration from fans. With Holiday in the building, Boston has a legitimate two-way player who thrives at locking up the opponent’s best player, but can also put the ball in the hoop.
Statistically, Jrue is an upgrade on Smart especially on the offensive end. Marcus brought things that don’t show up in the box score like his hustle, heart, and determination to win every loose ball. Smart is a unique and special player, but Boston fell short with him over his tenure with the team so it’s time to try something new and Holiday may be the one to finally bring Banner 18 to Beantown.