Marcus Smart could provide the jolt that the Celtics need to solidify themselves in the top-four in the east. Shams Charania reports that Smart expects to return Thursday against the Brooklyn Nets after the NBA All-Star break. The Celtics have lacked a level of toughness on both ends of the court. Smart provides that mentality.
A Stagnant Offense
Brian Scalabrine on the Lowe Post podcast talked about how it felt like the Celtics played a playoff-style of basketball but in the regular season. Particularly on offense, the Celtics are an isolation-heavy team, which mirrors playoff-style basketball where there are less passing and more isolation.
Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum love getting into their triple-threat bag. They are incredibly skilled at that way of scoring, but it doesn’t always create other teammates’ opportunities. There isn’t enough rim pressure to create consistent offense. Kemba Walker can occasionally get to the basket, but his height limits the passing angles he can make for kick-outs. Because they don’t get into drive and kick well, the Celtics don’t get many plays where they are swinging the ball all over the floor for an open look.
Smart makes up that he isn’t afraid to barrel his way down the lane and get to the rim. Because he’s stronger than most guards, he can occasionally post-up mismatches. He’s developed into a pretty good pick and roll ball handler as well.
Tatum and Brown’s shot creation doesn’t always force the defense into rotations. Their east-west scoring style is ideal for an end-of-shot-clock situation, but relying on sidesteps and stepbacks for a consistent offense is difficult to sustain. However, it’s hard to ask Smart to immediately come back from a lower-body injury and throw himself at the rim. The Celtics might come slow out of the break if Smart needs to work himself back into shape.
Smart Bolsters the Defense
The Celtics have the pieces to be a strong defensive team. Tatum and Brown are legitimate high-level defenders. Between those two, they can handle the larger scoring wings and switch any action. Daniel Theis and Tristan Thompson are mobile bigs that can play different pick and roll coverages. Smart is another guy that, even though he is undersized, can guard an array of positions. He has a strong frame that can stonewall offensive players trying to back him down.
Most importantly, Smart is a vocal leader on the court. He’s built a reputation for being one of the most animated players on the court. His presence gives the Celtics an identity on defense and a guy to rally behind. That’s where he will be most impactful in his return.