Marcus Smart shooting well from deep could be a huge deal for the Boston Celtics.
They’ve found some lineups that are working, the offense isn’t painful to watch anymore, and the whole vibe around the team is dramatically different. Marcus Smart playing with toughness and intelligence has been a big part of their turnaround.
Smart might also be having a breakthrough shooting season.
Hear me out.
Okay, so Marcus Smart isn’t a shooter. He will probably never be even an above-average shooter in the NBA. He is quite literally historically bad.
Marcus Smart is shooting 32.4 percent from beyond the arc this season, which is, ya know, bad. It’s also a non-rookie career high for him and, if sustained, would mark the third season in a row he’s improved from deep.
In 15 November games, Smart shot 37 percent from three point range on 3.6 attempts per game. Meanwhile, he’s shooting 35 percent as a starter, compared to 30.6 percent when he comes off the bench. That trend happened last year, too.
If we had the power to insert memes, I’d insert one with a stoic Queen Elizabeth captioned, “what’s your point?” Or maybe the one captioned, “not impressed.” You might be asking, why does it matter if he goes on one blisteringly hot streak? What does it matter if he’s decent in certain situations?
Brad Stevens has always encouraged Smart to shoot threes when he’s feeling it. He wouldn’t do that if he thought it was pointless.
The hope has always been that Smart just progresses a little – if he could just be halfway decent, it would be such a boost to Boston. He brings so much to the floor in every other facet of the game, and if he could just turn that one glaring weakness into a passive deficiency, he’d be significantly more impactful.
November is probably an outlier month, but it’s worth noting that he hasn’t had an outlier month like that in several years; it could be more than just a lucky couple of weeks. He’s shooting 32.3 percent in December, which is down from his November percentage but still above his career average.
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The starting numbers might mean something too – they could stem from small sample size error, but he might legitimately get into a better rhythm when he starts. Can you imagine if all Boston needed to do to turn Smart into the best defensive 3-and-D guy in the league was to start him? (Hint: it’s not that simple. Definitely…probably.)
But even if he never shoots threes consistently, the fact that he makes them in bunches on occasion matters. Defenders don’t sag off him as much as they did Rajon Rondo or Tony Allen – they know he’ll launch, and he will occasionally have a hot night.
Games like Saturday night’s loss to the Detroit Pistons, where he shot 5 for 7 from deep, are starting to feel less surprising. Those games make teams take his trigger at least somewhat seriously.
There’s so much weird stuff in his splits. He’s shooting 40 percent from deep on 3.8 attempts on the road. He’s shooting 51.9 percent (!) on 4.5 attempts on the second night of back to backs. Those stats tell you nothing other than that he randomly has very hot games (and, on the flip side of that, very cold games, but let’s keep things upbeat.)
Say this is the new norm – if Marcus Smart gives you randomly hot nights, and does so while shooting a bad 33 percent on average… if you’re the Boston Celtics, do you want that? With all he gives you in other areas, yeah, you probably jump for joy.
He doesn’t need to become a consistent shooter for the Boston Celtics to have a great offense. But him being situationally effective, him having hot streaks, and him being a willing shooter all help. He might be making a jump right now. He might also regress to his 17.6 percent October shooting number – honestly, who knows. But to this point, the numbers aren’t ambiguous; Marcus Smart is having the best shooting season of his non-rookie career.
If he trends the other direction, well, it was fun while it lasted. If he keeps trending in the right direction, it could legitimately unlock another level for the Celtics’ offense.