WALTHAM, Mass. – The 20 or so pounds of weight lost by Marcus Smart from a year ago is expected to help him become an even bigger impact defender this season.
It’ll also help him at the other end of the floor with the Celtics looking to play at a faster pace than we’ve seen under fifth-year coach Brad Stevens.
“With the skillset we have and guys coming off the bench, we definitely have the capability to do that,” Smart said.
Playing at a faster pace has actually been one of the strengths of the Celtics under Brad Stevens.
Boston has advanced to the postseason each of the last three seasons which includes two seasons (2015 and 2016) when they finished fifth and third, respectively, in the league in pace.
Last season was Boston’s most successful campaign since Brad Stevens has been their coach, but the team’s pace ranked only 12th in the NBA (99.32).
Indeed, playing a quicker game while minimizing mistakes, is one of the many challenges Stevens and the Celtics will face this season.
In each of the last three seasons, the Celtics have finished among the league’s top-8 in lowest turnover percentage. Stevens’ rookie season with the Celtics in 2014, Boston’s turnover percentage was .159 which ranked 28th in the league.
“I want us to play faster if we can keep the ball within our team,” said Stevens, referring to the Celtics’ need to limit turnovers. “Faster can be a number of things. For us, pace is the word, right? Pace can be up the floor but it can also be once you get into your half court, being able to move and cut, play together.”
But the goal of playing faster this season is something the Celtics will have to build up to, especially with a roster that’s filled with new faces who are still learning how to play with each other.
“We’re throwing the ball all over the gym some right now and making plays we’ll have to clean up,” Stevens said. “But as far as the intent of what we’re trying to do and the way guys are playing … it’s been good.”
But the Celtics, while eager to get out and run, understand balancing that with being a strong defensive team isn’t easy.
Last season, three of the top-5 teams in pace (Brooklyn, Phoenix and Philadelphia) were in the bottom half of the NBA defensively.
“We want to get the ball out and when we get stops, we want to get the ball up the floor as quick as possible,” Smart said. “Quick buckets, and we want to be able to execute at a fast pace.”
Said Stevens: “We want to do everything with pace; we want to do everything with high motor.”