He’s got the hardest nose on the court and the ugliest shot. Marcus Smart is the ambivalent underdog that continues to puzzle both the Boston Celtics organization and their fans. Just when it appears that he has it all figured out, Smart takes a step back - sometimes literally in the form of an ill-advised step-back jumper.
This year, cockeyed fans were throwing around claims like “Marcus Smart is in the best shape of his career.” or “Marcus has evolved as a shooter.”
Marcus Smart himself even had the audacity to release a high school caliber mixtape, titled “It's a Different Me!”. This video compilation showcased Smart’s “refined” shooting and how his preseason work has paid off.
Sidebar: Is anybody still listening to “Do the John Wall”? You kids might not get that reference. But I digress...
Boy oh boy! This was really promising to be the season that Marcus Smart finally crossed that elusive threshold and ascended to the upper-echelon of NBA players.
Well Celtics fans, it’s not looking like that’s going to happen any time soon.
It’s time for Boston to accept that Marcus Smart’s progress has ossified - permanently. He is the player that he’s going to be.
So does Marcus Smart ultimately help this Celtics team? Or is he just an intrepid gamer, tantalizing the hearts of fans, who is only capable of producing fleeting glimpses of talent?
The real answer lies somewhere in between those two extremes. Marcus Smart is equivocally Marcus Smart. There is a dichotomy that rages in the soul of this youthful NBA veteran.
Smart Being Stupid
Marcus has an admirable predisposition to fearlessness. It’s not outlandish to picture this guy doing motocross or base jumping. He's a rambunctious athlete who never shies away from a fight.
But hey, we have flight instincts for a reason - sometimes these are supposed to overmaster those gut feelings that push people to do stupid things.
And Marcus Smart has done some seriously stupid things, over the course of his 3+ years in the NBA…
We have recently emerged on the other side of a “Smart being stupid” campaign.
It started in early November, during a game against the LA Lakers. In that contest, Smart went 3 for 11 from the field and produced a measly 9 points, while playing over 35 minutes for Brad Stevens.
And when Marcus Smart starts missing, he just keeps shooting.
This underperformance kindled a nine game stretch where Smart was missing 79% of his shots from the field, while averaging a disproportionate 10 field goal attempts per game.
One can tell that Marcus becomes exasperated with his production, during stretches like these. His juvenile impatience is his worst enemy. When struggling, Smart has to a tendency to force shots.
He’ll insist on a jumper that isn't there or try to cut through an irising lane only to haphazardly lob up a prayer of a layup.
In the broadcasts you can almost hear Smart shouting “Kobe!” after every shot.
It's like he's depending on gambling to get him out of his scoring debt. Nonetheless, when Smart’s contribution is not appreciable in the individual statistics, he still has a positive influence on the outcome of the game.
Even during the aforementioned string of poor performances, Smart was an overall 7.2 plus-minus.
How is it that he can be conducive to winning, when he's squandering away so many scoring opportunities and forcing uncharacteristic shots?
Smart Being Smart
Marcus' fiery passion galvanises the Celtics in a very valuable way. He's an indefatigable gamer. When he's on the court, he gets involved in every play. And this is exactly where his redemption is found.
Marcus is perhaps the most prolific “Tommy Point” scorer of all time. I mean, he’s is like a wild Hungry Hungry Hippo whenever the basketball is loose on the floor.
He's also a tenacious defender who induces a charge, almost every single game.
Smart's furocity harrasses the psychology of his opponents. You can just see his trenchant clapping, after pivotal plays, needling the resolve of his enemies and uplifting his teammates.
Smart's the greatest on-the-floor advocate for the Boston Celtics. Every team needs this type of player, and Marcus Smart is a superlative example of that.
Boston does not need him to mutate into a scorer.
The Celtics actually have a higher winning percentage when Marcus Smart is shooting less than or equal to 30% from the field. In fact, Boston went 8-1 during his recent nine game cold streak. Go figure!
The Marcus Smart Paradox
Because of all of his intangibles, Marcus Smart is an irreplaceable player and he will definitely be re-signed in 2018. But do not confound Smart's value as a hustler for that of your typical superstar.
Sure, every now and then, especially in the playoffs, he'll hit a big shot. This however does not imply that he's a first-option shooter - quite the opposite.
And yes, he has recently had two consecutive high scoring games, but he is still definitely the ultra fallible Marcus Smart.
With that being said, he has evolved - not so much as a shooter - but as a versatile sixth-man. Smart is learning his role, evidenced by his 2017-18 season plus-minus of 7.8. This is currently a career high for the 23 year old.
Smart is somehow a catalyst for winning, while being undoubtedly the most inconsistent and ungifted shooter on the Celtics.
So when the hype inevitably comes around again, do not be fooled. He is not an all-star; he is not, and will never be, a centerpiece scorer. But Marcus Smart is the unsung cornerstone of the Boston Celtics.
One last thing: Marcus, please stop shooting the basketball. That's just not your game man.
Photo: (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)