It’s awards season at Celtics.com! We’re handing out six awards throughout mid-October 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...
There are a couple of award winners in our series that are no-brainers. Marcus Smart as the Defensive Player of the Year is one of them, as evidenced by your overwhelming voting results.
Smart’s outstanding defensive season can be recognized both from a Celtics team perspective and from an overall league perspective. We’ll examine his standing within the team first.
The sixth-year combo guard became the first Celtics player in nearly a decade to receive back-to-back All-Defensive First Team selections. The last player to do so in Boston was Rajon Rondo, in the middle of Boston’s most recent Big Three era, back in the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons.
The difference between Rondo back then and Smart now is that Smart serves as a Swiss Army knife for Boston’s defense. He not only defends the opposition’s top perimeter scorer nearly every night, but he also switches onto true big men and holds his own – at the very least – in the land of the trees.
You name a dominant scorer, and Smart served as a primary defender against him. From Damian Lillard to James Harden to Giannis Antetokounmpo to LeBron James to Luka Doncic, Smart answered the call with success night-in and night-out.
While defending players of superstar caliber on a nightly basis, Smart somehow still managed to lead the team in multiple defensive categories. He led Boston in both total steals (101) and steals per game (1.7), marking the second consecutive season during which he accomplished that feat. He also limited opponents to a paltry 42.8 percent shooting from the field this season, a percentage that led Boston’s top eight rotational players based on playing time.
Maybe the wildest statistic of all is that Smart did all of this while playing in only 60 of Boston’s 72 regular-season games during the 2019-20 season. That’s efficiency.
Smart racking up team-leading stats despite missing time also plays a role in the significance of the following outline of Smart’s defensive standing among the league as a whole. The defensive-minded guard still managed to rank eighth in the entire league in steals this season while missing more than 17 percent of Boston’s season and while coming off of the bench for a third of his appearances. Smart was also one of only six players in the entire league who averaged at least 1.7 steals and 0.5 blocks per game this season.
The Celtics are very well aware of how fortunate they are to have a player like Smart who brings it at the defensive end every night and impacts winning at a high level. Brad Stevens, who has coached Smart during all six of his NBA campaigns, outlined that fact the day after Smart’s selection to the All-Defensive First Team in early September.
“He’s special in his ability to guard individually and guard as a team,” said Stevens. “You could see that from the moment he got here, and he makes us all better.”
Stevens went on to explain that Smart’s presence played a critical role in Boston’s ability to surprise many and rank fourth in the league in defensive rating this season.
“Going into the year I don’t think many people thought we were going to be a very good defense,” the coach said. “But we still had a ton of versatility and a ton of guys that really knew how to play, and we had one of the best defenders in the league to lean on. I think that that is contagious.
“I think that his instincts make our whole team better. They help when we make a mistake as a team. He’s in the right place. He sees the game. He can direct people where to go. He knows how to play.”
And those traits are reasons why Smart is, yet again, the undisputed Defensive Player of the Year for Boston for the 2019-20 campaign.
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