Brown, Tatum Credit Smart’s Playmaking for Their Early Success
Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are shining in the spotlight this season, and deservedly so considering how they both rank among the top three individual scorers in the NBA. But flying under the radar has been their quarterback, Marcus Smart, and they both believe that he deserves more recognition for their early success.
This season, Smart has stepped into a more of a ball-handling role than ever before due to the injury of Kemba Walker and the offseason departures of Gordon Hayward and Brad Wanamaker. So far, he’s done a fantastic job of leading the Celtics’ offense, including on Sunday afternoon when he dished out nine assists, including a couple of crunch-time helpers that helped steer Boston to a 122-120 win over the Detroit Pistons.
Following the game, the league's leading point-scorer, Brown, made it a point to let the world know that “Marcus Smart is the heart and soul of this team.”
While Smart’s averages of 11.8 points and 6.2 assists per game don’t necessarily jump off the page, he does so much to help this Celtics team win.
“His energy and his poise on the offensive end have been great for us,” said Brown, who poured in a game-high 31 points in Detroit. “We've asked him to step up and play the point guard position and he's matched that. He's got me easy baskets, he's gotten Jayson easy baskets and he's gotten himself even baskets as well. I'm proud to see Marcus Smart's growth and the responsibility that he's gotten, he's handled it well in the first seven games.”
Entering Sunday’s game, Smart had played 47 percent of his minutes at the point guard position, according to basketball-reference.com. By comparison, last season he only played 23 percent of his minutes at the point and only played eight percent of his minutes at that position the year before.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens has loved the way in which Smart has adjusted to the increased role thus far.
“I think he's really tried,” Stevens said. “These seven games, he's the only guy above five assists on our team. So he's trying to get us organized, he’s trying to get us in a place where everybody can be successful.”
Sometimes, that means passing up on scoring opportunities that he might’ve jumped on in the past. For example, with just under two minutes remaining in a tie game Sunday afternoon, Smart had a wide-open chance to take a 3-pointer. But with three defenders closing on him from a distance, he opted to dish the ball off to an even more open Daniel Theis, who performed a back-door cut to the basket before converting an and-one layup for the lead.
“If I’m open, I’m shooting,” Smart said of situations such as that. “If the guy’s closing out, I’ve gotta be able to do what I’ve been doing my whole career and that’s getting to the rim, playmaking for not just myself, but for others. So that’s it, just making the read. They did a good job of closing out on me and not allowing me to get those attempts off, so I just took the easy play and took what the defense gave me.”
Smart also dished out the game-winning assist for Tatum’s mid-range jumper at the end of regulation. It was a simple pass, but Stevens emphasized how well he directed the play both beforehand and during.
“He knew time and score at the end when we were talking in the huddle, and when we got the ball to Jason with however many seconds left to shoot it only with enough time that they would have to heave it,” Stevens noted. “And so his thoughtfulness in that moment was huge.”
Smart’s decision-making during that play and throughout the season hasn’t been lost on Tatum, either.
“He's been running the team,” said the All-Star wing. “Starting point, making sure that we're in our spots, and just making sure we organize. And he's been doing a really good job at it.”