When Isaiah Thomas went down with a right groin injury, it was a no-brainer that Marcus Smart would be his replacement in the starting lineup.
Although the Celtics have lost two of the three games Thomas has been out, it certainly hasn’t been due to poor play by Smart.
The third-year guard has displayed the kind of growth the Celtics were hoping to see from him this season.
“I played point guard pretty much my whole life,” said Smart who earlier this season started in place of an injured Jae Crowder at small forward. “It’s not anything new. It’s about getting more touches and reps at that position.”
And that may be the silver lining in Thomas’ injury for the Celtics.
With more time on the floor, Smart has shown a surprisingly solid floor game that has certainly exceeded the expectations of many.
And when you look at his stats minus scoring, Smart’s past three games compare pretty favorably to the numbers Thomas has posted this season.
In terms of assists, Thomas averages 6.2 on the season, while Smart’s numbers are up to 5.7 in the three Thomas-less games.
When it comes to shooting the 3-ball, Smart has actually shot the ball better (38.5 percent) than Thomas (33.1) this season. Effective field goal percentage (.534 versus .482), offensive rating (112.2 versus 108.8 for Thomas) and defensive rating (92.6 versus 107.8 for Thomas) are both on Smart’s side as well.
Of all the data, Smart’s shooting in comparison to Thomas’ is a bit surprising.
Smart, who his shooting just 36.7 percent on the season and just 29 percent on 3s, acknowledges his shooting is a work in progress.
“I’m taking good shots,” Smart said. “Part of the reason why my shooting is low is I take bad shots; everybody sees that. Anybody that knows basketball, my shot selection is the reason my percentage low. The good shots I take, I make them.
Earlier in Smart’s career, he seemed to press a bit when an opportunity to start or play major minutes presented itself.
But he seems to have grown out of that, doing most of the things that the Celtics believed he was capable of in due time.
“I’m letting the game come to me,” he said. “I’m not trying to force too much. I’m trying to get my teammates shots and get them going early.
Smart acknowledges that knowing he’s going to play a lot of minutes does make it easier for him not to force the action and just play.
“I don’t have to come off the bench and go 120 percent right off the bat,” Smart said. “I can let the game come to me and get my teammates going. It’ll open things up for me towards the end.”
And that, Smart believes, bodes well for him and the Celtics going forward.
“We miss Isaiah; don’t get that wrong,” Smart said. “He’s a big key point for our team. But I’ve been developing well with his absence. That’s only going to make the team better when he’s back.”