How were the Boston Celtics able to produce the NBA's best starting five last season?
The Celtics made Marcus Smart their full-time starting point guard in 2021-22, and the eight-year veteran rewarded them by averaging a career-high 5.9 assists while playing stellar defense on the other end to become the first guard to win NBA Defensive Player of the Year since Gary Payton in 1996.
Simply put, the C's don't reach the 2022 NBA Finals without Smart's playmaking, leadership and underrated shot-making as the team's third-leading postseason scorer.
Can Smart duplicate that success in 2022-23? It's a question worth asking now that point guard Malcolm Brogdon -- who hasn't come off the bench in a game since 2018 -- is in the fold. Does Brogdon's presence mean a smaller role for Smart? How will the two point guards coexist with Derrick White and Payton Pritchard in Boston's backcourt?
We continue our Celtics player spotlight series by looking back on Smart's accomplishments last season and how he can raise his game entering next season.
Smart's 2021-22 stats
- Regular season: 12.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 5.9 apg, 1.7 spg, 41.8 percent FG, 33.1 percent 3PT (71 games)
- Postseason: 15.4 pgg, 4.5 rpg, 5.9 apg, 1.2 spg, 40.5 percent FG, 35.0 percent 3PT (21games)
Smart's contract situation
Smart is set to make $17.2 million in 2022-23 on the first year of a four-year, $76.5 million contract extension he signed with the team last August. Smart is under contract with Boston through the 2025-26 season.
What role will Smart play on the 2022-23 Celtics?
Brogdon has insisted he's OK coming off the bench, so Smart still will be the team's starting point guard and the quarterback of the offense ... to start the game, anyway.
Late-game situations will be interesting to watch, as Brogdon is a better offensive player and a more steady ballhandler. So, if Boston needs points in crunch time, it's possible that head coach Ime Udoka turns to Brogdon at point guard while moving Smart to an off-ball role or taking him off the court altogether.
Smart is the Celtics' best defender and emotional leader, so he should be on the court in most (if not all) key moments. But Brogdon's addition will allow Udoka to manage Smart's workload throughout the regular season and weather any injuries Smart sustains as a result of his all-out playing style.
Smart's season will be a success if ...
... He improves his outside shooting.
Smart had his best season as a passer in 2021-22 and his second-best shooting season at 41.8 percent from the field. He still shot just 33.1 percent from 3-point range on 5.1 attempts per game, however, and averaged at least two turnovers per contests for the second consecutive season.
Smart should get plenty of open looks this season, as teams may opt to let him shoot 3-pointers rather than tempt their fate with Tatum, Brown or recently-added sharpshooter Danilo Gallinari. Smart shot 36.4 percent from distance in 2018-19, so there's room for improvement in that category.
If Smart can cut back on the misses -- perhaps by picking his spots more in a deep Boston rotation -- it will make the Celtics' offense that much more dangerous in 2022-23.
Biggest obstacle to Smart's success
Too many cooks in the point guard kitchen.
Smart said all the right things about how he "love(d)" the Brogdon addition and believes the two can work together. But after essentially having full control of the offense last season, Smart will have to make a significant adjustment to accommodate Brogdon, a ball-dominant point guard who was used to running the offense in Indiana and Milwaukee.
An abundance of point guard depth should be a good thing, especially when injuries inevitably crop up. But don't be surprised if there are some rough patches early on, especially if Udoka experiments with playing Smart and Brogdon at the same time.
Projected stats and prediction for Smart's 2022-23 season
Projected stats: 11.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 5.6 apg, 1.5 spg, 41.0 percent FG, 35.0 percent 3PT (68 games)
Brogdon's addition should help Smart be a more efficient player, even if his production drops a bit. We're forecasting a slight dip in Smart's scoring and assist averages but an improvement in his outside shooting as he gets more quality looks from opponents daring him to shoot.
Smart is a fierce competitor who will win at all costs and has plenty of motivation after the Celtics fell short in the 2022 NBA Finals. If ceding some "floor general" responsibilities to Brogdon will help Boston get back to the Finals, expect Smart to be on board.