Every weekday until Sept. 7, we'll take a look at each player at the Celtics roster: Their strengths and their weaknesses, their ceiling and their floor. We continue today with Marcus Smart. For a look at the other profiles, click here.
BOSTON -- As a member of the USA Select Team this summer, Marcus Smart had a chance to play with and against some of the NBA's best.
Not surprisingly, Smart played physical defense.
He made a few shots, too.
Smart delivered the kind of all-around performance in Las Vegas that left an indelible impression as to the potential he has to become one of the better guards in the NBA someday.
But will that day be this season?
After all, Isaiah Thomas is an All-Star point guard and his backcourt mate Avery Bradley is a first-team All-NBA defender. Their presence has certainly limited some of the opportunities Smart has had to display his skills.
But that won’t keep him off the floor this season or from logging significant minutes as the Celtics look to continue their ascension up the Eastern Conference standings.
Here’s a look at the ceiling for Smart’s game this season as well as the floor.
The ceiling for Smart: Starter, All-NBA defensive selection
Smart continues to make his mark on the NBA with his defense, combining some really nifty physical skills with an absolute bad-ass mentality towards locking up whoever he's assigned to defend.
The 6-foot-4 Smart will tackle smaller guards like Matthew Dellavedova, or play a little bump-and-grind on the block with 7-footer Kristaps Porzingis. Stints defending elite scorers like LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are part of the job defensively for Smart, as well.
Of course, Smart gets a heavy dose of praise for his physical play defensively, but so much of what he does centers around his hustle and overall effort.
In what was a season which Smart’s hustle play was recognized with a few All-NBA Defensive Team votes, one of the more memorable moments came when he was able to out-hustle San Antonio’s Tony Parker for a loose ball, leadin g to a Boston lay-up.
But any tale about Smart’s effort defensively has to also include some mention of flopping, something he's been accused of from time to time. And on more than one occasion he's been guilty of this, without question.
Still, with his aggressiveness and resume full of difference-making, high impact plays in his first two NBA seasons, there’s no reason to doubt Smart will become officially one of the league’s top defenders and occupy a spot on the NBA’s All-Defensive Teams sooner or later, and with that a potential spot as a starter.
For that latter point to happen, Smart’s shooting has to improve appreciably. Last season he shot 25.3 percent on 3s, with a career 29.6 percent shooting mark from 3-point range.
With Evan Turner (Portland) no longer with the Celtics, Smart should have a few more opportunities to score now than he had in the past.
And while no deal is imminent, Bradley’s name was among those thrown around as possibly being on the move this season. If the Celtics decide to go that route, that, too, would open up an opportunity for Smart to become a starter.
The floor for Smart: Rotation player
If Smart doesn’t make the kind of strides he and the Celts are aiming for this season, worst-case scenario is he will remain a player in the Celtics’ regular rotation.
His versatility as a defender is just too valuable to leave at the end of their bench, regardless of how much he may struggle at times offensively.
If he continues to struggle, the more he’ll be seen as a one-dimensional (defense) player and with that, see his role -- and potential playing time -- more limited.
But coming off the bench, Smart has shown himself capable of holding his own as a defender against some of the backcourt scorers in the NBA.
Lou Williams, the league’s Sixth Man of the Year in 2015, was a 33.3 percent shooter against Smar,t according to nbasavant.com. Other big-time scorers such as Westbrook (4-for-11, 36.4 percent), Kemba Walker (3-for-11, 27.3 percent) and high-scoring guard James Harden (3-for-10, 30 percent) have all had their share of struggles knocking down shots when Smart has been defending them.
Both Smart and the Celtics are optimistic that his shooting will only improve with time. But in case he continues to have problems, Boston can take solace in the fact that it has one of the more promising, up-and-coming defenders in Smart, whose play at that end of the floor is good enough to where minutes will continue to come his way regardless of what he contributes offensively.