Breaking Down Smart's Career-Best Shooting Inside the Arc
BOSTON – Everyone knows that Marcus Smart is shooting the ball at a much higher clip than he ever has in his NBA career.
Most are just concentrating on the wrong area.
The majority of the attention given to Smart’s improved shooting has been with relation to his 3-point attempts, of which he has made 36.3 percent of his attempts this season compared to his career average of 30.9 percent.
Smart’s finishing ability inside the arc, however, has been overlooked – until now. You’re welcome, Marcus.
The fifth-year guard is shooting a career-best 51.7 percent on 2-pointers this season, compared to his previous career high mark of 42.9 percent. He’s excelling from 0-3 feet in particular, where he has made 68.5 percent of his attempts.
One day after he shot 6-for-9 from inside the arc during a 21-point effort in Cleveland, Smart credited his hard work with assistant coach Jay Larranaga as the factor behind his improved numbers. Al Horford and Brad Stevens also offered their respective views on the guard’s excellent finishing ability.
“I think that he’s taking his time,” said Horford. “I think at times, you know, you get in the paint and you expect to go quick; sometimes you have to go quick. And other times – and yesterday was a great example – he really took his time, felt how the defense was, and just made the right move. That’s just a sign of growth.”
Stevens, meanwhile, said, “Just like everybody else, he’s just go to continue to take the good ones and that’s what he’s done best this year, I think, is he’s made the right decision more times than not, for sure.”
Let’s take a closer look at the pace and decision-making Smart showcased Tuesday night in Cleveland.
Smart mastered the pick-and-roll Wednesday night. He succeeded at every level of the play’s progression.
First came The Oop to Horford:
This pick-and-roll is off of a dribble-hand-off. Smart turns the corner, and after just one dribble, he diagnoses that Tristan Thompson’s eyes are locked on him, rather than on Al Horford. With that fact made clear, Smart determines that an alley-oop to Horford from outside the free-throw line will be wide open. And it was.
Hell of a read – one of the quick ones Horford alluded to.
The next progression of the pick-and-roll came midway through the fourth quarter, again with Horford. This play turned into a Fake-Oop-Turned-Layup.
Smart notices that his defender is trailing him off of the screen, so he attacks the paint with his first dribble. This is when the patience comes into play. Rather than forcing up another oop, Smart moves his attention to Larry Nance Jr., who is Horford’s defender.
Nance jabs toward Smart with his left foot and arm, but quickly retreats toward Horford right as Smart is moving into his motion to toss another oop to Horford. Smart doesn’t throw the oop, however, because he reads the defender. Nance Jr.’s retreating opens up a shooting lane, so Smart intelligently opts to drop an uncontested layup off the glass.
At this point, Smart and the Celtics realized that they were torching the Cavs with this play, so they ran it again a minute later. Cleveland realized the same, so it switched up its coverage, leading to The Pull-Up.
Off of the exact same action, Smart takes his first dribble off of the screen and immediately eases up. Why? Because he’s patient, and he realizes that rather than trailing him off of the screen, his defender, Jordan Clarkson, was instructed to trail Horford to the basket and take away the alley-oop option. Meanwhile, Nance Jr. remains in an “ice” position, which means Smart has no immediate defensive threat. Hence his slow pace.
Smart takes a second dribble, and at this point, he realizes that the Cavs have no plans to pressure him. So he steps into a smooth, pressure-free, wide-open jumper from just outside the elbow. High-quality shot, nothing but net.
This progression was a pick-and-roll clinic.
Back in the first quarter, only three minutes into the game, Smart showed more patience on The Post-Up.
Smart cuts from the corner off of Terry Rozier’s screen and immediately establishes post position on his trailing defender, Brandon Knight. Before he even takes a dribble, Smart turns his body toward the center of the paint to survey the defense.
As he settles off of his first dribble, Smart is almost certainly anticipating one of the three help defenders around him to come assist Knight, which would have led to kick a pass to a teammate. But all of the help defenders stay put.
At this point, Smart understands that Sexton, at 6-foot-3 and only 195 pounds, is the only defender he needs to worry about. So Smart, at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, takes a second dribble and rises into a relatively simple jumper from eight feet out.
Through great patience and shot selection, that’s easy money, and that’s what Smart has been doing all season long.