‘Force of Nature’: Celtic Among NBA’s ‘Most Underappreciated Players’

Marcus Smart ranked among NBA's most underappreciated players

Getty Daniel Theis #27 of the Boston Celtics and Marcus Smart #36 of the Boston Celtics react during the fourth quarter against the Miami Heat in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Finals.

With games postponed due to COVID-19 protocols, most of the chatter surrounding the Boston Celtics at the moment revolves around a potential James Harden deal. Or rather, the potential loss of budding star Jaylen Brown in the process.

Yet, there’s another name also readily included as projected compensation to bring Harden to Massachusetts. More specifically, a fellow Celtics guard who could prove nearly as costly of a loss should Boston allow him to get away.

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Put Some Respect on Marcus Smart’s Name

Bleacher Report’s Dan Favale is begging you. While a spotty shot selection at times may deter global fandom for Smart, it’s his defensive prowess and tenacity that make him one of the most pivotal players on the Celtics roster.

Despite his compact, albeit stocky, 6-foot-3-inch frame, the eye-test says Smart is one of the most dominant wing defenders in all of basketball. The accolades back up this sentiment, as Smart is currently riding back-to-back All-Defensive First Team selections. With that said, there still appears to be a lack of appreciation for the former No. 6 overall pick. That is, outside the Celtics building.

Pegged as the “heart and soul” of the Celtics, per Jaylen Brown, Smart recently earned some outside admiration for his unheralded duties, checking in as No. 5 on Favale’s “Most Underappreciated Players” list, of which the B/R writer went as far as to deem the guard as one of the league’s best players, “period.”

Maybe the attention Smart receives will eventually align in scale and tenor with his on-court impact. For now, he is easily one of the league’s most underappreciated players even though he’s one of its best, period.

Favale went on to laud Smart for his “positionless” skillset and “force of nature” traits, even drawing parallels to a former league MVP in the process.

No other guard wields Smart’s combination of strength, physicality and craft. He defends like Russell Westbrook plays offense—as a force of nature—but he’s more methodical than blunt. His hands are quick and subtle. The turnovers he creates are their own form of playmaking.

Smart’s offensive lows will never compare to his defensive highs. He is only 6’3″ yet is somehow virtually positionless. The majority of his assignments include the toughest backcourt cover, but the Boston Celtics don’t hesitate to occasionally throw him at larger wings and fringe bigs.


Smart’s Continued Growth on the Offensive End

While you could have a gripe with Smart’s somewhat irrational shot selection at times, a sentiment which Favale backs by claiming viewers may need “an iron stomach” to experience, his development on the offensive end cannot go unstated.

Shooting 36.2% from beyond the arc this season, Smart has hit on 35.5% of his threes over the past three years. This, after owning a 29.3% three-point percentage over his first four years in the league.

The early-season absence of All-Star point guard Kemba Walker has also opened the door for Smart to increase his role as a contributor this season, a role he’s shouldered admirably, averaging a career-high 6.4 assists.

“His energy and his poise on the offensive end have been great for us,” Brown said of Smart earlier this year. “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.”

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