It’s awards season at Celtics.com! We’re handing out six awards over the next week as we roll through this year’s Celtics.com Awards Series. We may not have trophies or acceptance speeches, but we do have some top-flight Celtics performances to outline. Here we go...
This is the easiest award that we’ve ever given out.
Marcus Smart was the NBA’s 2021-22 Defensive Player of the Year, which made him our obvious choice for the team’s DPOY.
The best defender on the best defensive team in the league, Smart ranked sixth in the NBA in steals per game (1.7) fifth in defensive win shares (10.3), and first in loose balls recovered per game (1.1).
However, Smart’s contributions went way beyond the box score, as they always have. His grit and determination set the tone to help Boston achieve the best defensive rating in the league at 106.2 points allowed per 100 possessions. And his tenacious on-ball defense helped the Celtics record the NBA’s lowest field-goal percentage allowed at 33.9 percent.
The longest-tenured Celtic was also the vocal leader of the defense, communicating in a manner so that he and his teammates could play on a string and be ready for whatever the opposing offense was about to throw at them.
“He’s a great defensive anchor for us, but he’s a better leader,” said teammate and fellow All-Defensive teamer Rob Williams. “He starts the game off telling us, ‘Alright I’ve got him - we’re going to make it hard on him.’ It’s easy to follow a leader like that that has that grit. He directs us so well; he knows what play is coming.”
Often guards don’t get the respect they deserve on the defensive end because they don’t accumulate blocks and rebounds at the rate in which big men do. It explains why a perimeter defender hadn’t won the league’s highest defensive honor since Gary Payton in 1996.
However, Smart made so much of an impact this past season that he became the easy choice for the NBA DPOY. He wound up receiving more than a third of the media’s first-place votes, garnering 37 out of 100. No other player had more than 22 such votes and no other big man finished with more than 12. Smart finished with 257 voting points – 55 more than runner-up Mikal Bridges and 121 more than the closest big, Rudy Gobert.
Fittingly, Smart received the award directly from Payton on April 18 in a surprise ceremony at the Auerbach Center. The Hall-of-Famer and former Celtic expressed to Smart how special it was to finally end the guard drought and how it should open the door for other perimeter defenders to be recognized.
Smart became just the second Celtic to win the award, joining Kevin Garnett, who earned the trophy in 2007-08 as part of Boston’s last championship season. Smart nearly followed Garnett’s exact path, as he helped to guide the Celtics back to NBA Finals before coming up two wins short of a title against the champion Golden State Warriors.
Further emphasizing his defensive impact, Smart was also named the winner of the NBA Hustle Award, which “rewards players that do the little things that don’t show up in the traditional box score.” It marked the second time in the past four seasons that Smart earned the honor, making him the first-ever two-time recipient.
Smart was also a near-unanimous selection to the All-NBA First Team – his third selection in the past four seasons –earning 99 out of 100 media votes.
It was a season in which Smart took home every possible piece of defensive hardware, and we’re adding one more to his shelf.