A guard that is into his 7th year with the Boston Celtics, Marcus Smart has proven himself to be one of the biggest figures in this Celtics side since he was picked by the Boston side as the 6th overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.
Smart’s All-Star teammates Jayson Tatum & Jaylen Brown have both publicly came out and labelled Smart as “the heart and soul of the Celtics”, and Tatum & Brown’s comments have proved to be evident with the Celtics’ 5-8 record since Smart picked up a torn calf injury on Jan. 30 during the classic match up against the Los Angeles Lakers.
So what makes Smart’s presence in this Celtics team so big to make a supposed play-off lock team fall below .500 in his absence? Well, this Smart-less Celtics side has struggled on 3 massive aspects that Smart provides more than any other of his teammate.
Smart currently averages 6.1 assists per game, a career high and the highest in the entire team. Before his injury, Smart’s presence and creativity to the team allowed Celtics’ two All-Stars Tatum & Brown to have more freedom to score and give them less pressure to change the game. Since Smart’s injury, the weight on Tatum & Brown has increased where they’ve been expected to lead the team in both scoring and assisting, and this has taken a heavy toll on them.
The Celtics are currently 28th in assists in the NBA, the 3rd worse record in the whole league, and taking Smart out of the team puts Tatum as the next highest assisting player with 4.6 assists per game. With Tatum & Brown having to be the ones to create for other players who aren’t as effective shooters, the team misses that luxury of closing games out early, as well as in the final minutes, as it has shown in recent losses to the Pelicans and Mavericks.
Smart’s defense has always been his biggest asset to this Celtics team, as he averages 1.8 steals per game, the highest in the team, and having only Jrue Holiday averaging more in the entire league. The Celtics rank 6th in points off of turnovers, and a big part of it is Smart’s ability to win possession and create the chance for his teammates to score. Smart can also guard and hold his man well, as his aggression allows him to draw fouls and strength out his opponent, and with Smart’s absence, the team lacks that sort of player.
Kemba Walker has filled Smart’s role in the team, and even though Walker excels at shooting and movement, he doesn’t have that positional aggression or aggression that Smart has when defending. Walker also is similar to Tatum & Brown in regards to being more accustomed to be the lead guy in the frontcourt, and without Smart, that sort of experienced role guy that wins back possession in the backcourt is not there to give cover to the All-Star player.
Smart’s greatest attribute overall is his voice in the team and the way he’s able to motive the younger guys in the team. Smart is into his 7th year with the Celtics, making him the longest serving player out of anyone in the team. Although Smart is only 26-years-old, there are only 3 other players in the team that have been in the league longer than him – Walker, Tristan Thompson, and Jeff Teague. Although all 3 possess also possess good leadership skills, they are all recent arrivals and don’t know the teams and players inside out the way Smart does.
Smart’s vocal skills on the court motivates the other players to perform at their best, and also motivates the younger players off the court such as rookies Aaron Nesmith and Payton Pritchard, who have made an immediate impact to the team by getting the most minutes off the bench in recent games. The Celtics have the youngest team in the entire league, and with Smart out you have that big vet presence missing on the court to help the team when they’re struggling, since although All-Stars Tatum & Brown have helped out in that regard, they’re also still young guys and it’ll take a while before they have that sort of team and league experience to know the game inside out.