BOSTON – The final day of Marcus Smart’s first NBA season didn’t go quite as planned.
First there was head coach Brad Stevens’ decision to have him come off the bench and be replaced by Jae Crowder in the starting lineup for Game 4 of Boston’s first-round series against Cleveland.
That was followed up by Smart oversleeping which led to him being late for shoot-around.
“It was an unorthodox day for me,” Smart said. “It was just a lot going on. Everything was turned upside down from the start. I just hope I don’t have another day like this.”
Indeed, it was an eventful day – much like the 6-foot-4 guard’s first season as a pro.
As the No. 6 pick in last June’s NBA draft, expectations were high from the very beginning. The drafting of Smart coupled with Rajon Rondo’s impending free agency, pointed towards Smart being the heir apparent for Boston at the point guard position.
Once Rondo was traded to Dallas in December, Smart’s role increased but by no means were the keys to castle turned over to him.
Evan Turner became the team’s primary playmaker while Smart started and to a lesser degree, learned the position without having the weight of playing the point full-time upon his shoulders.
Like the Celtics, Smart had some memorable, highlight-quality moments this season such as the game-winning shot at Toronto in a 117-116 overtime victory for Boston on April 4.
But there were some moments he would just as soon forget about, like the low blow – literally – he gave San Antonio forward and New Hampshire native Matt Bonner when Boston played San Antonio on March 20.
Smart hit Bonner in the groin region and was ejected from the game, and suspended one game for his actions. And that came about a week after he was ejected from a game against Orlando where he drove towards the basket and landed an elbow near the head of fellow rookie Elfrid Payton who later said he didn’t think the play deserved an ejection.
But through the successes and struggles, Smart has shown growth as a player and future leader of this team.
“He works hard, wants to get better,” Celtics veteran Gerald Wallace told CSNNE.com. “And he’s already a good defender who can be a really good defender with some more experience.”
Indeed, Smart is a work in progress who has shown signs of better understanding how he can impact games at both ends of the floor.
His defense was NBA-solid from the very start, but finding his way offensively wasn’t quite as simple. And a couple of nagging injuries that sidelined him didn’t help matters, either.
But as the Celtics got deeper into the season, those flashes that we saw earlier were lasting longer now.
“He’s starting to figure the game out a little bit more,” Boston guard Phil Pressey told CSNNE.com. “The more you play, get used to the competition that is so much better than what you saw in college, the better you become as a player. He’s definitely getting better.”
His improvement was due in part to better recognizing when to attack the rim, something he did a lot more of in the final months of the season.
In the first three full months of the season (November, December and January), Smart did not average more than 1.4 free throw attempts in any given month. After that, he averaged 3.7 free throws in February, 1.9 in March and 1.5 in April.
“Late in the season I was attacking the basket more, getting in the lane more,” Smart said. “I just have to keep working on that.”
That is the one-word description he uses to describe his summer – work.
And much of that work will be done in Boston, he says.
Smart recognizes the gains made by Boston and how unusual it was for him to be selected as high as he was, and play a major role for a playoff team.
Of the teams in the last June’s NBA lottery, only Smart and Milwaukee’s Jabari Parker played for teams in the playoffs.
Parker was the No. 2 pick in last June’s draft, but his season was cut short by an ACL injury so he has not participated in the Bucks’ postseason run.
Smart played in 67 games for Boston with 38 starts along with starting in three of Boston's four playoff games.
The only other rookies making a major contribution on playoff teams have been Chicago’s Nikola Mirotic and Brooklyn’s Bojan Bogdanovic who both played overseas prior to coming to the NBA.
But of the rookies who came from the college ranks and were selected in last June’s NBA draft, none have contributed more to their team getting into the playoffs, than Smart.
“It was beyond expectations,” Smart said of his rookie season. “Coming to a team that wasn’t even mentioned in the talk about playoffs and we made it our goal. That’s not what you’re goal is, to make the first round. But on a young team like this, where you have no expectations of being there? For the most part, it was a good season.”