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Can Marcus Smart Play Off The Ball? Should He?

 

On Saturday, Marcus Smart made his Summer League debut. On one of his first possessions, he caught the ball in the halfcourt and fired up a 3-pointer without any hesitation. It’s the kind of shot that had analysts worried before the Celtics drafted him — a shot college-aged Marcus Smart would have taken and likely back-rimmed.

NBA Summer League Marcus Smart also back-rimmed it.

Smart struggled badly in the first half, as you can read essentially everywhere. He shot poorly and looked a little surprised at the speed and physicality he was facing defensively.

He quickly improved, however. When opponents drove at his chest, he bodied them away. When a ball-handler tried to pass to the post, Smart anticipated it, coming away with one of his five steals. And, on offense, when he had the ball in his hands, he played well in the pick-and-roll.

It’s when Smart doesn’t have the ball in his hands that things get interesting. After all, the Celtics still have Rajon Rondo, and they reportedly have interest in Isaiah Thomas (although it’s worth wondering whether that interest waned considerably after Avery Bradley signed his 4 year/$32 million deal). But Boston’s roster becomes extremely flexible if the Cs can use Smart both on and off the ball consistently.

“I feel comfortable at both, really,” Smart said. “We have a great guard with Phil, so they decided to put me at the two. I was totally fine with that. It let me get out in the open court and use my athleticism and physicality. I was fine with that, but I was fine playing the one when they moved me to it to give Phil a break.”

That’s the kind of flexibility Boston needs, but will it feel comfortable if Smart is asked to be a shooting guard against true NBA competition? Defensively, the Celtics certainly trust him.

“We don’t really have a true small forward on the roster,” Summer League coach Jay Larranaga said. “We have a lot of really good tough physical guards, and they’ll mix and match…I’m sure Marcus will be on some big guys, some smaller guys. They just adjust really well to what we are asking to do.”

Having Bradley and Smart in the backcourt might work nicely. Smart can get to the rim, and he has good passing instincts. If he’s not drawing fouls or scoring around the rim — Smart averaged 9.9 free throws per 40 minutes last season — he’s an excellent passer in drive and dish situations. If he can collapse defenses, he can find Bradley who (as we’ve written roughly 900 times) shot 39.5 percent from 3-point range.

But that’s all on-ball work. Larranaga thinks Smart can also play like Bradley did with Rondo — cutting off screens and finding gaps.

“I thought (Smart) did a really good job (off the ball),” Larranaga said. “He’s so smart. He can play off screens, off the ball, so it’s more a challenge as a coach to figure out ways to get him the ball. But he and Phil are winners and unselfish guys. I know they’ll do whatever we ask them to do.”

As the week progresses, one of the more interesting story lines to follow will be how Smart plays off the ball with Pressey. If Smart will only flourish at point guard, Rondo is more likely to be on his way out (although the Celtics won’t be so impatient as to make a decision one way or the other based on Summer League). If he can play off of it, and if using $32 million Avery Bradley as a sixth man is palatable for Danny Ainge, having a one-two punch of Smart and Rondo might be worth the shooting and spacing concerns it would create.

“Smart is an all around player,” Larranaga said. “He’s about winning. He’s about ‘What do we need to do to win? If it’s a rebound, I’ll do that. If it’s a stop, I’ll get that. If it’s a shot, a free throw, I’ll do that too.’ The really exciting thing about him is that he just wants to win.”

Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.

  • hax

    His skillset screams PG.
    Our team actually has some pretty nice depth this year from PG through PF.
    I could definitely see them fighting for a playoff spot.

    PG: Rondo – Smart
    SG: Bradley – Young
    SF: Green – Wallace
    PF: Olynyk – Sullinger – Bass
    C: NEED A STARTING CENTER – Faverani

    • hax

      Anthony & Bogans for Perkins
      ______
      A 1 year rental so at least we’d have a Center who hits guys in the paint. Plus, it could make Rondo happy.

      It’s not like we’re contending this year anyways, unless we pull off a blockbuster trade.

      • Ping

        People are still carrying the Perk flag?

        • hax

          No…but I like him better than 6’9 Anthony or ‘sitting home’ Bogans. :)

          • Ping

            Did you know that Perk has posted a PER below 10 in each of the last four seasons? His PER last year was 6.3. Six point three. You know how hard it is to do that as a starting NBA player?

            In that time span OKC has paid Perk roughly $28 million to be one of the worst players in the league.

            The Celtics got the better of that trade and thensome.

          • hax

            I know he sucks :(

            Still better to have him tackle anyone who goes inside, than ‘Bogans knocked out by Brad Stevens after demanding more playing time’ or simply watching the camera zoom in on Joel Anthony’s face while he sits there depressed on the bench.

            Plus Noah won’t come into our locker room after games with Perkins there. That’s a plus.

      • dasein

        Scot Brooks will never give up his favorite player!

  • Ping

    I want to talk about the Celtics’ TPE. I know this post has nothing to do with it, but I want to get Tom and everyone else’s opinion.

    I’m aware most TPEs go by the wayside and expire, but then most are only $2 million or less. The Celtics’ is worth $10.3 mil. That’s a significant number. The only one I’ve seen near that amount was used when the Jazz acquired Richard Jefferson from GS. Richard Jefferson isn’t an impressive name, but GS attached two first rounders to him.

    So to point, isn’t this exception too big an asset to let go to waste? I don’t expect it to be used to easily absorb Kevin Love’s deal, but shouldn’t it be utilized to take back someone’s bad contract with sweetner? If Ainge agrees, something fairly significant is imminent, right?

    • hax

      Yes.

    • dasein

      You’d think, but at the same time I don’t see Danny forcing something just to use it up, especially if whatever albatross it brings back forces him over the tax.

      It’s not like the Celtic’s are the only team that can absorb a big contract either, so the going price for doing so might be meh in any case. Thanks supply and demand.

      Still, it would help a lot if LeBron and Melo would make their bloody minds up so the rest of the league can get on with life.

      • skeeds

        Exactly what the problem is right now. That trade exception is pure gold for the 6-7 teams that are gunning for the “big” free agents out there, since it’s basically instant cap room.
        But the situation is really weird. It’s not like Lebron and Melo are even negotiating. they’re basically just waiting it out. Teams like the Lakers, the Bulls or the Mavs don’t even know if they have a chance to go after Melo for example, and those are the kinds of teams that would go after this kind of deal…

    • hax

      Would Wallace for Stoudemire work then, If we used the Pierce & Lee trade exceptions?

  • hax

    Marcus Smart looks years away right now. He’s heaving airballs from 3, turning the ball over with poor decisions, and fouling guys on 3 point shots/or guys a mile from the basket once they blow by him.

    But it feels like he is trying to show off by taking a bunch of shots, and that isn’t his game. He needs to break down the defense, make the right pass, and make his teammates better. So hopefully this is something quickly fixable in training camp.

    • dasein

      Yeah, I think it is. You’d rather have the guy who’s trying too much than the opposite. Once coaching staff hammer into him that he’s not a 3pt shooter (other than in specific spots/locations), those bad shots should go away. Over time, he might even get his shot to the point where defenses have to respect him.

      Bad fouls and TOs go with experience too. All totally fixable.

  • skeeds

    I don’t understand why he has to be either one or the other? Who said 2-guards shouldn’t play on the ball? Does the fact that Rondo is a great playmaker mean no one else should hold the ball on offense?
    Does playing the 2-spot means either catching and shooting or cutting, and nothing more? I think we’ve forgotten how flexible teams play after all these years of Doc’s puritan offense.
    Smart should play on the ball as much as possible, especially at the 2 spot. And if that means Rondo has a smaller role on offense, well, TOUGH.
    Even if it means planting himself to the one spot on the floor he can make 9/10 shots, there should be a solution to what he’s supposed to be doing when someone else has the ball, other than just standing there, like he used to do in all the “Pierce possessions” back in the day.The fact that it’s a “problem” if the ball isn’t in Rondo’s hands is a
    testament to his somewhat limited skillset, not anyone else’s.

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