Marcus Smart’s move to point guard earned him DPOY


A wise decision.

A wise decision.
picture: Getty Images

The most surprising aspect of the Boston Celtics’ turnaround this season was that the team did it with a position change rather than trading a major asset. Derrick White’s acquisition helped provide much-needed depth of cover, but Marcus Smart, who was allowed run point, cemented his role and gave him direction and purpose.

Earlier in the season, he was open about his displeasure at standing in the corner waiting for Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to pass the ball to him, and I defended the two young Celtic wingsbecause letting Smart make decisions often ended with him firing bad shots at key moments.

Fast forward to Celtics-Net’s Game 1 on Sunday, which was definitely the highlight of this young playoffs so far. When, with 3 seconds and a count on the clock, the ball found its way into Smart’s mitten and Boston lost a point, a “not again” moment flashed in the minds of the TD Garden crowd. The game’s biggest moment, and it’s happened again: Marcus Smart will decide our fate, and that crucial fight will come down to whether he makes a contested 3 shots, opted to pump and play fake instead.

Maintaining clarity in a mad mess is a quality that cannot be taught or developed. In addition to having to keep an eye on the doomsday clock, Smart had to keep his head up to find a cutting Tatum. And even then, he still had to deliver a pass good enough for the receiver to catch, spin and put the ball through the hoop in one fluid motion of less than two seconds.

It was one of those “presence of mind” moments that reminds fans of players like Reggie Miller or Ray Allen seeking the 3-point line on chaotic comebacks. It wasn’t one we easily associate with a guy like Smart, who puts so much energy and heart into defending the ball that we attribute his effectiveness to rushing rather than basketball IQ.

I’m not saying he doesn’t play hard; Steph Curry and the rest of the guys who sustained collateral damage from one of his jumps or lunges in a regular-season game can attest to Smart’s engine. What I’m saying is that it takes more than just really trying to successfully play passing paths, deflect dribbles and disrupt attacks.

Yes, effort is required, but so is a thorough knowledge of NBA offenses and progression to be in the right place at the right time. Watch Draymond Green and hear pundits rave about his intellect. Smart isn’t thought of in that context because all Brad Stevens asked of him on offense was to stand in the corner and shoot 3s, something he’s not great (or even really good) at. Imagine how we would talk about Green if the Warriors relegated him to a glorified spot-up shooter and not a point center.

If all you have to do is spread the ground on offense, I don’t care who you are, you’re going to get some bad shots because that’s the only way you’re allowed to influence the game. I mistook Smart’s frustration with his teammates and his role as a guy trying to get into hero ball. He didn’t want that at all. He wanted to influence the game, so he found (and forced) the few opportunities that came his way.

A new manager can offer a fresh perspective and Ime Udoka’s reliance on Smart to handle and facilitate the ball has helped unlock the Celtics’ previously half-realized potential. It turns out that the position he held in high school and college that got him sixth overall and that the Celtics were so desperate to fill was actually his position all along.

He’s attempting almost two fewer threes per game than last year (5.9 to 5.1) and dishing out a career-high 5.9 assists per contest. according to BasketballReference. From the playmaker’s standpoint, he’s not Steve Nash (or even Draymond), but that’s not what Tatum or Brown need because they can do their own recordings. The team needed a way to get him to settle into his role because his defense is invaluable and maybe they flipped a switch if you just let him put the ball on the pitch like, ‘Okay, I need to look for others instead of looking for my own shot because now it’s up to me to include everyone.”

That would make sense because he does the traditional duties of a point guard (ie.e. passing), which is probably why he called out Brown and Tatum for hogging the ball in the first place. And first place is where Boston probably would have gone into the postseason if Robert Williams hadn’t been injured.

The Celtics finished in second place and earned a Game 1W’ against the team that sent them home in five a year ago. Boston’s regularThe season’s success hasn’t gone unnoticed, and the playoffs certainly won’t run either if they continue.

Additionally, when your squad is good enough to garner non-homer hype, your posts are harder to ignore. The eighth-year Oklahoma State player has been one of the best defensive guards since coming to the NBA, but he’s now a point guard and Defensive Player of the Year. He is the first security guard since Gary Payton to achieve this recognition presented him with the award in a very cool moment.

Anyone who’s watched Smart frustrate his opponents for nearly a decade knows he’s playing a winning All-NBA defense. But they didn’t know if he was a winner. You do it now.

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