It’s time to stop acting so surprised by Marcus Smart’s 3-point shooting.
We now have the past 2 1/2 years of data that suggests that, when healthy, Smart is an above-average 3-point shooter. He shot nearly 39.7 percent beyond the arc in Boston’s 2017 playoff run and carried the momentum into last season when he shot a career-best 36.4 percent. Eleven games into the 2019-20 season, Smart is shooting 40.8 percent while putting up a hefty 6.9 attempts per game.
This isn’t a fluke. No longer does Smart need a snow-day practice session to harness his 3-point superpowers. Smart’s hard work — and, maybe more important, sustained good health — has allowed his natural talents to be spotlighted.
A Smart pull-up 3-pointer used to elicit groans. Now it’s one of Boston’s better looks. Yes, he's still prone to the occasional bold heat check but the results speak for themselves. Smart ranks 13th in the NBA in total 3-pointers made (31) this season and there’s no reason to believe that, given the offensive talent around him this season, this isn’t sustainable.
This isn’t Smart getting hot from one spot or feasting on just open catch-and-shoot looks. On Friday night against Golden State in San Francisco, Smart made five 3-pointers, confidently firing when the ball came his way in transition. When the Celtics kicked out to Smart after an offensive rebound late in the first quarter, it kickstarted their comeback from a 15-point deficit. Early in the fourth quarter, when a defender rushed to impede his path to the paint, Smart hit a little step-back 3-pointer from straightaway.
Smart finished 5-for-9 beyond the arc. It’s the 13th time in his career that he’s made at least five triples in a game (including postseason). Eleven of those have come in the past two-plus seasons. He’s made at least four 3-pointers in each of Boston’s past four wins.
The inconsistencies you remember from the past might have had more to do with health than talent.
Whether it was shredding his hand punching a mirror a few years back or tearing a ligament in his thumb later that season, there have been ailments that contributed to stretches of poor shooting. Still, what Smart is doing now doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone in the Celtics organization.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens and president of basketball operations Danny Ainge have long maintained that Smart had the right mechanics to thrive with the 3-point shot. He’s certainly never lacked for confidence. Assistant coach Jay Larranaga spent a lot of time working with Smart when that shot struggled early in his career. Now Smart fires away with the confidence of someone that completely trusts his shot.
The 3-point shot now accounts for just under 70 percent of Smart’s total shot attempts this season. That’s up from 61 percent last season. While Boston’s offensive quartet of Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Gordon Hayward have relentlessly attacked the basket this year — Boston’s drives way up from a season ago — Smart has been the beneficiary of drive-and-kicks, particularly when the driver kicks out with a hockey assist and the ball moves quickly to Smart while catching the defense in rotation.
Even better, Smart’s 3-point penchant hasn’t come at the expense of his playmaking. He’s still averaging 4.6 assists per game, providing needed ball-handling with Hayward injured and taking some of the load off Walker.
The NBA’s shot-tracking data hammers home Smart’s better shot selection in recent years. Half of Smart’s 3-point attempts this season have come with zero dribbles and he’s made 40 percent (22 of 55) of those quality catch-and-shoot looks. Smart is shooting 43.6 percent on all “wide-open” 3-pointers (6 feet or more of space) and 38.7 on “open” looks (4-6 feet). More encouraging: He has only six attempts in what’s deemed tight (2-4 feet) coverage and none with “very tight (0-2 feet).
In fact, Smart hasn’t taken a “very tight” covered 3-pointer in either of the past two seasons. Smart isn’t forcing anything and showing a greater maturity in shot selection than at times earlier in his career.
We get it — it was those ill-timed, defense-smothered 3-pointers that used to make fans cringe. Smart didn’t shoot the ball well enough early in his career to justify some of the bold pull-up offerings he’d take.
Now he does. He's earned that trust. And it's time to stop being so surprised when those shots go in.
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