In a topsy-turvy start to the season, you could be forgiven for having no interest in any potential individual accolades for the Boston Celtics roster members. Still, those awards are real, and while it may not feel like it right now, multiple roster members may feel vindicated in their attempts to get some recognition.
In a recent article for Bleacher Report, NBA analyst Dan Favale looked at some of the league’s dark-horses for individual honors at the end of the regular season and listed Marcus Smart as a prime under-the-radar candidate to take home Defensive Player of the Year.
However, Favale does accept that Smart faces an uphill battle to gain the defensive recognition his play deserves. “Defensive Player of the Year recognition is forever more likely to land with a big or whatever Giannis Antetokounmpo is. Gary Payton was the last guard to win the award…in 1995-96. Both the odds and history are against Smart edging out candidates such as Rudy Gobert (+200), Bam Adebayo (+600), Draymond Green (+750), Giannis (+750), et al.,” Favale explained.
Smart’s defense has always been his calling card, blending high-level basketball IQ with a fearlessness that has endeared him to the Celtics faithful and seen him become a fan favorite in the TD Garden. Yet, due to his size and the fact he’s often been an impact player off the bench, Smart has settled for a couple of All-Defensive First Team nods instead.
Smart’s Defensive Impact This Season Has Been Impressive
According to Basketball Index, Smart’s primary defensive role this season has been defined as a “wing stopper,” with the guard splitting his time guarding positions 1-through-3 while also defending 4’s and 5’s for short bursts during games.
Continuing with Basketball Index’s player data, Smart’s greatest defensive attributes are his help defense around the rim, his post defense, and his ability to guard the screener in pick-and-roll possessions – categories usually occupied by wings and forwards.
Furthermore, Cleaning The Glass has tracked the Celtics’ play over the season thus far and has them +16.8 points better when the combative guard is on the floor than when he goes to the bench.
With such a striking impact on the team’s performance, along with the Celtics allowing -5.2 points per 100 possessions when he’s on the floor, it’s fair to assume Smart will find himself in some defensive award conversations. However, with the Celtics struggling to find any modicum of consistency so far, you do wonder if his efforts will go overlooked again.
Boston & Smart Extended Their Relationship This Summer
As the longest-tenured member of the Celtics, nobody wanted to see Smart potentially run down his current contract and test free agency. Simply put, there are far too many teams who will see value in what he brings to the floor, and risking losing such an essential member of the roster was a risk nobody wanted to take.
Luckily, after moving from the sidelines to the front office, President of Basketball Operations Brad Stevens reached an agreement with Smart to see him remain on the Celtics for another four years.
Smart’s impact on winning goes far beyond his performances on the floor, too, with the veteran point guard being a vocal leader of the team both on and off the floor. It comes as no surprise then that when he thought his teammates were playing selfishly to start the year, their sergeant at arms called them out to the media following a terrible collapse against the Chicago Bulls in early November.
With Smart contracted to the Celtics for the foreseeable future and his defensive impact improving year-on-year, it’s likely that he will eventually become the first guard since Gary Payton lifted the coveted DPOY award. Unfortunately, due to his team’s patchy form, that’s riddled with inconsistency, it’s doubtful that Smart raises the individual accolade this year. But as Favale notes, he is a dark-horse option to break the mold if he continues to put in some stellar rearguard performances.