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Forsberg's Focus: Smart's defense elite, but offense a work in progress

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* Each weekday for the rest of the month, we’ll put a member of the 2019-20 Celtics, and one of their most notable statistics, under the microscope while assessing their season and what lies ahead: 

21.4

That was Kawhi Leonard’s shooting percentage (3 of 14) against Smart this season based on the NBA’s matchup data. We use that to spotlight Smart’s defensive impact given that Leonard was the player he defended most during the regular season (logging 50.8 partial possessions and 12 minutes, 59 seconds of total matchup time over two games).

Smart, who was first team All-Defense for the second consecutive season, routinely took on the challenge of defending the other team’s best player, even if he was giving up a bunch of size. After all, his second most frequent defensive matchup was Giannis Antetokounmpo. 

What went right for Smart in 2020

Boston’s health woes routinely forced Smart to elevate to a starting role (40 starts in 60 appearances) and he averaged a career-best 12.9 points per game. Smart’s playmaking continues to evolve and he handed out a career-best 4.9 assists per game, all while his turnover rate plummeted despite the uptick in usage.

Forsberg's Focus: Assessing what's ahead for the C's roster

Smart strengthened his claim for Defensive Player of the Year consideration with his ability to defend players of all sizes and still had a knack for winning plays (especially a game-saving block in Game 7 against the Raptors).

 

What went wrong for Smart in 2020

Celtics fans weren’t thrilled to see Smart taking 11.6 shots per game in the postseason, especially after his shooting percentages dipped a bit this year.

His offense was necessary in Round 2 against Toronto when Kemba Walker was struggling, but Smart probably could have downshifted a bit against Miami when his 3-point shot went cold. Smart was a mere 9-of-34 shooting on 3-pointers against Miami after making 6 of 13 attempts in Game 1. 

Early outlook for Smart for 2021

When Boston is at full health, Smart can thrive in the Sixth Man role where his primary focus is defense and playmaking. Alas, the Celtics have been so battered by injuries in recent seasons that Smart has started 71.4 percent of his appearances since the start of the 2018-19 campaign.

Forsberg: Embracing the highs & lows of the Marcus Smart Experience

Smart has two years and $28 million remaining on his current deal and will forever be involved in trade chatter because Boston has no other contracts around his salary number. But his value to the Celtics is far greater than what the team could fetch on the trade market and, more importantly, every championship team tends to have an intangibles guy like Smart on the roster.