It’s the NBA season eve, but for Celtics fans it might as well be Christmas Eve. Tomorrow night Boston heads to Cleveland to kick off the 2017 NBA season. Preseason aside, Celtics fans finally will get to see their promising new team hit the court. You can’t ask for a better debut, in what will be a rematch of the Eastern Conference Finals. And oh yeah, the whole LeBron James and Kyrie Irving drama.
There hasn’t been this much excitement around the Celtics since the peak of the Big 3 era. Thanks much in part to general manager Danny Ainge, who finally delivered on his fireworks promise. The results of these fireworks? A major overhaul of the roster to acquire Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. As a result, this year’s team is left with only four players from last year’s roster. That’s an insanely low number, especially for a team that finished with the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference a season ago.
One of these four survivors is guard Marcus Smart. He might not be the oldest player on the team, but he does now happens to be the longest tenured Boston Celtic, despite entering just his fourth NBA season. Still only 23 years old, Smart will have to be relied on this season more than ever. Not just on the court, but as a leader, and a true example of what it means to be a Boston Celtic. Given the fact he’s the only player remaining from Brad Steven’s first season coaching the Celtics, Smart will have to provide some early stability for team. Especially given the circumstances regarding the recent roster overhaul. Fortunately, he looks ready for the challenge and more.
New Season, New Marcus
Known to be his own hardest critic, Smart finished last year’s playoff run frustrated not just because of the outcome, but from what he expected from himself.
“I know when I played good. I know when I didn’t play too well. I was my hardest critic. That’s all that matters.”
Despite actually upping his averages in nearly every area from the regular season to the postseason, Smart still entered the off-season unsatisfied. Another factor is the fact Smart is entering the final year in his rookie contract, meaning it’s a contract year for the young guard. Something that holds more weight than ever given the remarkable amount of money going around the league. A newly motivated Marcus Smart entering a contract year? It makes plenty of sense that Smart would commit to himself more than ever this off-season. And oh did he ever. Smart began a new lifestyle consisting of a much healthier diet, and tougher training regiment. The results? Incredibly, Smart lost 25 pounds in just over three months. Resulting in a newly evolved Marcus Smart.
Eager to show off all his hard work in the off-season, Smart came into the preseason with as much to prove as anyone. The new Smart quickly gained the attention of the Boston fans and media. Despite the much awaited debuts of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, it was Marcus Smart who soon began garnering major attention in the preseason. The new and improved Smart was on full display from game one of the preseason. Smart hit two 3-pointers early on, and finished three of seven on long balls. The 3-pointer is where Smart could improve the most thanks to his lighter frame. A career 29% 3-point shooter, Smart shot 7-for-12 over four preseason games. A small sample size for sure, but at the very least an encouraging sign. If Smart could at least improve close to league average (~36%) that would go a long way in the 3-point heavy Brad Stevens scheme. But it wasn’t just long-range shooting where Smart looked better. He look quicker and more explosive on and off the ball. Smart was able to get to the rim and finish with much more success than in the past. All while displaying his usual tenacity on the defensive end.
Smart played a total of 72 minutes in the preseason. Giving us an even two game per 36 minute breakout of his numbers. In such minutes, Smart finished with an average of 20 points, 7.5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals. He shot 57% from the field, and 58% from 3-pointers. Obviously we can’t expect this level of efficiency throughout the regular season. Still, Smart showed us a glimpse of what his true potential could be these season.
“This year is different. It’s a new me. I plan on showing that this year.” Smart said.
Smart will likely take on the role of sixth-man again for the Celtics this season. Meaning he’ll be the first off the bench and expected to do so with high energy while leading the second-team unit. It’s a role Smart did well with last season, but should thrive in for 2017. If it all comes together for Smart, the young guard not only could earn himself a big payday, but don’t be surprised if he’s in the discussion for the award of sixth-man-of-year by season’s end. If Smart takes that leap that I, and most importantly he believes he will, he could emerge a true x-factor for this Boston team. Even then, despite potential numbers and accolades, at the end of the day Smart is the ultimate competitor. When he’s on the court he has one thing in mind, WIN. He’s a player who makes winning plays and takes pride in his defense. Anything else from him is a cherry on top, only this year it might be a damn big cherry.
If you would like to receive an email each time a new Boston Celtics article is published, fill out our email notification form