We can already tell you how this holiday scene will play out.
It’s Christmas Day, you’ve opened your gifts, enjoyed your socially distanced family dinner, and now you've settled in to watch the Celtics host the Nets.
When Marcus Smart throws up an early 3-pointer -- make or miss -- your crotchety Uncle Henry will scoff loudly over the family Zoom call while launching into a tirade about Smart’s shot selection.
Maybe he’ll have read Smart’s quotes from this week. The one where Smart proclaimed, "If I'm open, I'm definitely shooting the ball,” then pressed on why he referenced a renewed focus on shot selection, Smart added, “Because when I take great shots, I’m a great shooter.”
Those quotes made Hank angry. He’s convinced Smart takes too many 3-pointers -- that number spiking to 6.6 per game last season -- and there’s no swaying him whenever someone tries to reason that Smart was a league-average shooter from beyond the 3-point arc the last two seasons.
With Kemba Walker sidelined to start the 2020-21 season and Gordon Hayward now in Charlotte, Smart’s role is about to increase. But nestled in between some of his 3-point bravado, Smart himself laid out a path to how he can truly be a great shooter.
"My teammates, the coaching staff, definitely told me catch and shoot. If you’re open, shoot it,” said Smart.
It sounds so simple but it confirms exactly what recent data hammers home with Smart: He’s at his best when he doesn’t force 3-point shots.
Let’s rewind. To identify when Smart is at his best, we dove into the NBA’s tracking data, particularly from the 2018-19 season when Smart shot a career-best 36.4 percent beyond the arc. Smart shot a healthy 38.7 percent on his 256 catch and shoot opportunities beyond the arc. His percentage plummeted to 29.1 percent on his 86 3-point pull-ups. He shot 39.1 percent whenever his touch time was under 2 seconds and 25.4 percent on anything longer.
A similar pattern developed during Boston’s 2020 playoff run with 28 of Smart’s 41 3-point makes coming on catch-and-shoot opportunities. The outlier in all this came during the 2019-20 regular season when Smart was bizarrely far more accurate on pull-ups (40.1 percent) than catch and shoot (31.4 percent) but it might speak to why his percentage dipped to 34.7 percent overall after his career best mark the year before.
Fret all you want about Smart’s penchant for fearlessly chucking 3s but the numbers suggest he really shouldn’t be bashful — at least when he has quality looks. He’s proven in recent years that, when healthy, he can truly be a good shooter. The key to Smart becoming a great shooter is more consistently taking great shots.
With Walker sidelined, the Celtics are going to need offense and Smart is going to naturally feel pressure to help make up some of what’s missing. But his priority has to be playmaking, especially as first-unit point guard.
"I averaged 4.8 assists in a bubble, one of the highest on the team, and I'm just going to continue to keep making plays for others, and creating for myself, but definitely running the show as a point guard and finding those guys,” said Smart.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens stressed that balance to Smart as well.
"He's a much improved shooter but he's also an outstanding playmaker,” said Stevens. “We've talked a lot about increasing the efficiency of our team and his ability to make plays for others is a big part of that, putting guys in the right spots to soar with their strengths. … For us to be good, we are really going to have to hit on [roles], especially over the first couple months of the season.”
So if Smart dribbles his way into a bad pull-up on that first 3-point attempt on Christmas Day, you can agree with Uncle Henry. But stress that it’s not that Smart shouldn’t be taking 3-pointers, he’s just gotta take the right ones.