BOSTON – Marcus Smart when dislocated, two fingers dipping for a loose ball in an otherwise mundane summer league game, so no display of fuss should be this surprising. Smart just doesn’t know how to slow down on a basketball court.
But just in case anyone needed a refresher, there was Smart Friday Night in Philadelphia, rushing over Richaun holmes as the Philadelphia 76ers center tried to advance the ball from the backcourt in the second half of an exhibition game.
Smart, dropping 6 inches, got a hold of the ball and latched onto it as Holmes tried with two arms to stop Smart from pushing it away. Eventually, as the two made it, the ball jumped close to the free throw line. Smart immediately threw himself between the legs of TJ McConnell and trapped the loose bullet. Smart even had the presence of mind to roll onto his back and kind of feed his teammate Terry rozier, who then threw a driveway-oop this rookie Guerschon Yabusele finished with a lay-up.
When the Boston Celtics gathered to watch the movie of the games two days later, coach Brad Stevens made sure to highlight the streak.
“Now you guys who weren’t here before you know why we all love Marcus,” Stevens said. “He does things that other guys just don’t do. And that’s a big tribute to him.”
Smart, the No.6 pick in the 2014 draft, is entering his fourth NBA season. On a Celtic roster that underwent an unprecedented overhaul this summer, he wears the “Oldest Celtic” badge, though he finds the notion rather absurd. Still, as one of four returning players, Smart is a small slice of familiarity on Boston’s new roster.
Smart, too, has a new look. He lost 20 pounds this summer with the help of a private chef and a diet rich in Mediterranean food (“Dates are great, love them,” Smart said). He admitted that he suffered from back pain at times in last year’s playoffs when his weight climbed. Smart is noticeably slimmer and its game is packed with explosiveness – just watch this video from a recent post-workout one-on-one when Smart takes off for a slam as a rookie. Jayson tatum jostles to defend:
Marcus Smart ❗️❗️❗️ pic.twitter.com/Nqw4QY8rto
– Chris Forsberg (@ESPNForsberg) October 5, 2017
Perhaps no coincidence, the 23-year-old Smart is eligible for an extension of his rookie pact ahead of the regular season predictions on Oct. 17. The Celtics must decide whether it’s worth giving Smart a big paycheck now or running the risk that a solid season could further raise his price and allow his rivals to bid on his services.
While league sources indicate the Celtics are interested in an expansion, Smart has confirmed a Yahoo! Sports report on Monday which suggested that neither he nor his agent had yet received a formal offer from the team.
“My agent and I haven’t heard from the Celtics,” said Smart, who pointed out how other players in his draft class inked big money expansions. “You see everybody’s numbers and things like that, so we just wait a bit.”
Despite the lack of talks, Smart said his preference was to be in Boston in the distant future.
“I would love to be here long term. Hope I am here for the long term, ”said Smart. “I love the organization, I love the fans, I love everything the Celtics represent.”
For Boston, an expansion could ultimately depend on what the market defines for Smart’s value. Boston seems unlikely to be willing to pay Smart the kind of money Gary Harris got from the Denver Nuggets (4-year-old, $ 84 million), but there’s a more palpable number for a Celtics team expected to live above the cap for the foreseeable future. Considering a possible hike in the luxury tax (and, further, repeat penalties), the Celtics still need to be responsible for their spending, especially since many rivals won’t have much to spend in the open market. this summer.
Regardless of whether the two sides reach an agreement before next week’s deadline, there is an obvious urgency in Smart’s play this preseason and a clear desire to take a step forward this year.
Smart has heard all the complaints about his game. That’s part of the reason he left social media this summer. You don’t need to remind him of his shooting difficulties – he’s shot 35.8% from the field for his career, including 29.1% from beyond the 3-point arc. He spent part of his offseason training in Denver with Chauncey Billups trying to find ways to harness his unique power guard skills.
But Smart also knows how much of an impact he has on winning, and box score stats can’t fully quantify his impact. So when Stevens pointed out Smart’s hustle and bustle in this recent movie session, it resonated with Smart.
“It’s great,” said Smart. “I do a lot of things that don’t show up on the stats sheet. And those things, you can’t teach. This league is so focused on the goal of scoring the ball, but it doesn’t look at the other things, like dive on a loose ball when it’s a close game, a game with one or two possession, get another possession from your team. Or snatch the ball from someone or take a charge. “
The way Smart has gone down this season, some have wondered if he would still be able to keep bigger and stronger players. Smart found the idea that he might have a hard time amusing.
“I really laughed at that,” Smart said. “I’ve been keeping bigger guys since I was in college, the same weight I am now when I was in college. It will never change; my strength will never change. Just because I lost weight, it’s to my advantage. I can move a lot faster now, in addition to my strength. “
In Monday’s Celtics-Sixers rematch at TD Garden, Smart once again showcased his strength as a grown man. Beginner of the Sixers Markelle Fultz, the first pick in the June draft, rolled hard on the right side of the lane and tried to turn in the paint. A Smart backpedal snatched the ball from Fultz’s hands as he came up for a shot and, balancing on the baseline, Smart returned the ball to a teammate to start a break in the other direction.
Smart’s hectic games are not lost on his new teammates.
“He’s a scrapper. He’s a competitor. He’s a bulldog,” Gordon hayward said of Smart. “And it’s fun playing with guys like that. He’s always going to put the energy on, the hustle and bustle is playing, and I think, in the [first Philadelphia] game we had where he dove for the ball and he got the ball and we had a layup, it’s like game-changing games. “
Smart’s offensive play has been solid in Boston’s first three preseason games. He averages 10.7 points per game on 54.5% of total shots. He succeeded 7 of 12 attempts at 3 points (58.3%). Even in non-daytime workouts, Smart just seems more confident to shoot the ball.
Stevens did not commit to the role of Smart this season. He covets his experience and ball-handling abilities off the bench, but has also said the Celtics need to be flexible and there could be some showdowns that Smart makes sense in with the first unit.
The big question is, what kind of player will ultimately be Smart? Is he the kind of player who can start in the face Kyrie Irving in the backcourt of Boston or will he live in this Sixth Man, a role that gives energy?
There are metrics that like Smart, such as CARMELO by FiveThirtyEight, who classifies Smart as a “future All-Star”. One of the metrics’ comparable players is beloved former Celtics guard Dennis Johnson. Another is Avery bradley, The former Boston all-defense starting shooting goaltender who was traded to the Detroit Pistons last offseason.
As the Celtics seek a new identity with their revamped roster, Smart’s play could go a long way in shaping how this team is viewed, especially on the defensive end. It’s clear Stevens has a special appreciation for what Smart brings to the ground.
Boston’s front office has to decide how much it’s willing to pay for what the box score can’t always tell you about Smart’s impact.