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Recently, Bleacher Report ranked the most underrated players in the NBA and, sure enough, Maarcus Smart of the Boston Celtics placed highly.
Over the past two decades, the Boston Celtics have been one of the most consistently successful teams in the NBA. Making the postseason on 16 separate occasions during this span, the team is seemingly always seen as a threat to take home the Larry O’Brien trophy come year’s end.
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The past six years have been more of the same, with stupendous regular seasons that inevitably bleed into extended playoff runs — with guys like Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Kemba Walker in tow, this level of dominance should still continue moving forward.
However, if one were to ask a Boston Celtics fan who the heart and soul of their favorite NBA team is, they’d be hard-pressed not to say Marcus Smart.
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A 2x NBA All-Defensive First Team selection, the Swiss Army man has proven capable of filling many holes and playing various positions within Brad Stevens’ rotation throughout the years.
Now, without their All-Star guard in Walker, the team has still finds themselves atop the conference standings, as they hold the best record in the east at 7-3.
This is, in large, due to Smart’s production as team’s replacement at the starting one spot.
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The Boston Celtics were able to win on Wednesday night, but Marcus Smart almost cost the team a victory. Simply, he needs to play smarter.
So far in 2021, there are a lot of reasons to be excited about the Boston Celtics. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have taken the next step and Payton Pritchard might be the steal of the 2020 NBA Draft.
But one issue is Marcus Smart. His decision making is getting very close to costing the team games.
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To Smart’s credit, he is having a decent number statistically. He is averaging 12.1 points and 6.6 assists.
But the problem is Smart’s shot selection. He consistently takes poor shots early in the shot clock. This isn’t just in normal game scenarios either, he also does this in crunch time.
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Smart decided to take on the entire Heat defense in Boston’s final possession and of course he missed. If it wasn’t for Pritchard grabbing the rebound and scoring, Boston very well could have ended up losing.
With the emergence of Pritchard, Brad Stevens might need to reconsider Smart’s role. Pritchard needs to be apart of Boston’s 2nd unit even when Kemba Walker returns. That could very well mean cutting Smart’s minutes.
It seems at times Smart thinks he is the No.1 guy. He needs to defer more to Tatum and Brown as well as Pritchard when he is hot. Smart is primarily in the game for his defensive skills and not what he can do with the ball in his hands.
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There is no doubt that Smart is amazing on defense. He is arguably the best defender in the NBA and there is no one that he can’t guard.
But when it comes to shooting, Smart makes too many mistakes. If he wants to continue to progress as a player he needs to improve his decision-making. He can’t just be throwing up shots from deep early in the shot clock.
NEXT: Celtics 2020 retrospective: The year of Jayson Tatum
Smart just needs to play smarter. It’s really that simple.
Posting 12.2 points, 6.4 assists, 2.8 rebounds, and 1.6 steals per game on 36 percent shooting from deep, the seventh-year veteran is proving himself once again to be what Celtics have known about him for quite some time: a do-it-all player who puts his all on the court every single night.
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Unfortunately, however, outside of Boston’s fanbase, Smart’s prowess goes somewhat unnoticed and heavily underappreciated, so much so, in fact, that Bleacher Report has him ranked within their latest list of the 10 most under underappreciated players currently in the NBA.
Citing his defensive dominance and “overwhelmingly positive play” overall, writer Dan Favale believes the 26-year-old to be the league’s fifth-most underappreciated player:
He is only 6’3″ yet is somehow virtually positionless. The majority of his assignments include the toughest backcourt cover, but the Boston Celtics don’t hesitate to occasionally throw him at larger wings and fringe bigs.
No other guard wields Smart’s combination of strength, physicality and craft. He defends like Russell Westbrook plays offense—as a force of nature—but he’s more methodical than blunt. His hands are quick and subtle. The turnovers he creates are their own form of playmaking.
Invariably, however, Smart is a defensive system unto himself in a league that lauds scoring and bigger stoppers. Perception of his shooting also has yet to catch up with his actual shooting. His trips inside the arc have too many twist endings, but he’s drilling 35.5 percent of his threes since 2017-18 and has even turned into more of a threat off the dribble.
Maybe the attention Smart receives will eventually align in scale and tenor with his on-court impact. For now, he is easily one of the league’s most underappreciated players even though he’s one of its best, period.
Though the majority of people familiar with the league don’t see Marcus Smart in this light, fortunately, there are those like Favale and all of us here at HH that will continue to bang the proverbial drum stating that he is heavily underrated and underappreciated.