The Boston Celtics currently have a 2-1 series lead on the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals thanks, in part, to the stellar play of Marcus Smart.
Smart, set to be a restricted free agent this summer, is one of most unique players in the NBA and creates an interesting dichotomy.
Specifically, what I will call the Marcus Smart dichotomy, pertains to his quite frankly abysmal shooting compared to the hustle, toughness, defense and playmaking Smart brings every game.
This season, Smart continued his career poor shooting numbers, 36 percent from the field and 30 percent on three-point shots, according to ESPN.com. Barring a drastic turnaround, it is clear that Smart is just not a good shooter and that’s okay because poor shooting can affect guys differently depending on their play style.
Luckily for Smart, he excels in the other less glamorous and tangible aspects of Basketball.
Smart is a skilled operator in the pick-and-roll and can initiate an offense in half-court sets. When Smart is the ball handler in a pick-and-roll, he exhibits underappreciated vision and passing skills, whether that’s throwing a lob to the rolling big man or finding shooters in the corners.
More importantly, Marcus Smart is the personification of hustle and never quitting on a play. Throughout these playoffs there have been numerous examples of this: diving on the ground and wrestling the ball from three Milwaukee Bucks before somehow finding Horford for a layup late in the fourth quarter of game seven or getting a put back layup after Jayson Tatum missed helping clinch the series against the Philadelphia 76ers, or even in game two against the Cavaliers knocking a rebound out to Tatum and then immediately getting a put back layup after a miss.
Smart also showed his undying leadership against the Cavaliers by getting in JR Smith’s face for a flagrant foul committed against Horford. Not to mention Smart’s elite ability to lock down ball handlers, chase shooters around the floor and matchup against bigger players in the post on defense.
“I think he [Smart] is as tough as they come,” Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said. “He is a true competitor. He matches his intensity with a physical toughness. People talk about him all the time, sometimes they focus on things that don’t matter and other times they focus on that he impacts winning. We are really glad he is on our team.”
Marcus Smart will rarely have high volume scoring and efficient games, but that is not how he contributes to a team. Smart makes winning plays, he does whatever the situation requires.
This summer, Smart will undoubtedly receive attention and some offers from other teams. As a restricted free agent, Boston can match any offer made for Smart, but should they? Should the Celtics pay Smart when someone like Terry Rozier will be a restricted free agent in 2019?
The answer: Yes, absolutely.
The already outlined impact and benefits of Marcus Smart far outweigh any disadvantages. The Celtics have multiple players that can shoot the ball well and score efficiently, not to diminish the importance of those skills, but nobody that plays like Smart. The energy, hustle, toughness and leadership of Smart often fuels the Celtics.
Smart is not the player to hit a game winning shot. Smart will, however, make a play that directly leads to a win.
Boston would be making a huge mistake to let Marcus Smart sign with another team.