Boston Celtics: A slight tweak in Marcus Smart’s game could pay dividends

Marcus Smart #36 of the Boston Celtics (Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images)
Marcus Smart #36 of the Boston Celtics (Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images) /

Don’t look now, but the Boston Celtics are on a bit of a roll.

Winners of 10 of their last 14 games, the Celtics have managed to turn a record that was three games under .500 to one that is three games over .500. They still sit in ninth place in the Eastern Conference, but when you consider they are only 5.5 games out of first place, that’s not a huge concern right now.

With the NBA Trade Deadline now less than a week away, Boston’s front office finds themselves in a bit of a pickle. Do they break up this group of players that has finally started to show some progress, or let things play out and see what happens? Either way, things appear to be trending upwards for the C’s as they head towards the deadline.

Last night’s win over the Charlotte Hornets was one of the most interesting games of the season. For most of the season, this team has won or lost based on the performances of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. But last night, with both players struggling to handle the extra attention they got from Charlotte, their supporting cast stepped up in a big way to help the team pull out a game they would have lost earlier in the season.

There were a lot of positives last night, such as the Jays’ passing prowess and Josh Richardson and Grant Williams shooting lights out off of the bench. But easily the biggest positive was the play of Marcus Smart. Smart has been a different player since he came back from his COVID-related absence, and the Celtics have been a better team because of it. But with a small tweak to his game, Smart may be able to take things to the next level, which could be the key for Boston.

The Boston Celtics should work on getting Marcus Smart more shots in the paint

For much of the season, Smart had been one of the biggest problems with this team in my eyes. He’s not a true fit at point guard, and it felt like his brash playstyle had run it’s course in the locker room. I’ve called for him to get traded multiple times this season, and while his recent stretch of play has been nice to watch, I still stand by my desire to see him get traded.

But if Smart is going to stick around, he’s going to need to keep up this recent level of play we have seen from him. Since returning from COVID, Smart has played in six games, five of which the Boston Celtics have won. He’s been a more efficient scorer, a better passer, and the same hustle defender that we have all become accustomed to seeing.

While Smart’s scoring efficiency has increased, his three point shooting has remained inconsistent at best. This is what Smart is; he’s going to shoot his threes whether or not they fall. Sometimes they fall and help the team win, and other times they don’t and the team suffers as a result. But what if it didn’t have to be that way?

Smart’s three point struggles are well documented by now, but what gets lost in that is that Smart is actually a very solid scorer from inside the arc. Over his recent six game stretch, Smart is shooting 78 percent(!!) on two point shots. And quite frankly, it’s not all that surprising.

Smart has always been a pretty solid finisher at the rim, and last night’s game against the Hornets was clear evidence of that. Smart finished a number of difficult layups at the rim throughout the game, making you wonder why he wastes so much time bricking threes when he could be making some highlight plays like this:

Another area Smart is really good at offensively is post scoring. When matched up against an opposing guard, Smart isn’t afraid to use his physicality to back down smaller guards, and it usually results in an easy two or a dish out to a wide open three point shot. When Tatum or Brown are struggling to get going, letting Smart go to work with his back to the basket wouldn’t exactly be the worst idea to get the offense going.

Smart is a much better finisher at the rim than he is a shooter, and if he can adjust his offensive game to reflect that, the Boston Celtics would be for the better. That doesn’t mean he has to completely eliminate three point shots from his shot diet, but there’s no sense forcing a deep three seven seconds into the shot clock, which Smart does have a tendency to do from time to time.

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Despite trade rumors continuing to swirl around Smart, it seems like he will be sticking around for at least the rest of the season. If that’s the case, Smart is going to have to continue playing the way he has over Boston’s recent run, which means more twos and less threes. If Smart can rediscover his form as the 20 point scorer he was during the Boston Celtics bubble run two seasons ago, this team could end up making something of this season after all.