Marcus Smart just got paid by the Boston Celtics, and some pundits don’t understand why. Here’s a breakdown of why Smart is worth every penny.
If you aren’t a diehard Boston Celtics fan, you may be wondering why a 6-foot-4 combo guard who has never shot over 36.7 percent from the field just got signed for four years at $54 million. If you are a diehard Celtics fan, you probably understand that it has to do with Marcus Smart’s defensive energy and, of course, combat muscles. Or, maybe you think it’s the unwavering admiration and support from the social media contingent Weird Celtics Twitter that forced GM Danny Ainge to protect Smart for the long haul.
As an obsessive diehard Celtics fan myself, I’m here to take it beyond the box score (a phrase so often associated with a player like Smart), and break down exactly why he’s so valuable. (Note: Unless otherwise stated, all stats are per 36 minutes to make up for minutes differences on the Celtics. Also, to balance out per 36 and per 100 possessions stats, only players with at least 50 games are being considered).
As an offensive player, Smart doesn’t bring much to the table in terms of scoring. Of the 10 Celtics players who saw at least 50 games this past season, Smart ranked just eighth in scoring at 12.3, and ninth in FG% at 36.7. Luckily for the Celtics, who can deploy a flurry of players who shoot 40 percent from deep in Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, and Al Horford, they don’t need Smart for his offense.
Smart is important for so many things that go beyond the simple, and often overused, stats like points per game, player efficiency rating, and field goal percentage. Smart’s defensive rating, a stat which measures the expected number of points scored against a player over 100 possessions, ranked second best on the Celtics; who, by the way, finished with the top-ranked defense in the NBA a season ago. He was also the most prolific stealer of the basketball, with a STL% of 2.2.
These metrics are interesting in a vacuum, but with a broader context, they become simply eye-popping. Per stats.nba.com, Smart ranked top-four in the NBA in Defensive Win Shares per 48 minutes, with only Rudy Gobert, Dejountae Murray, and Robert Covington performing better in that category. Smart also finds himself in elite company as only eight players in history have matched or exceeded his threes, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks through their first four seasons. The list includes Jason Kidd and LeBron James. On top of that, Smart’s contested REB% ranked first among players his height or shorter, and if you combine his REB%, STL%, and BLK%, only 20 players in NBA history match his numbers.
It’s especially important to note Smart’s impact on the team as a whole. It’s not enough to simply point out that Smart was a top-five player on the Celtics in terms of plus/minus, where he posted a +213 on the season. It goes beyond that. Every team efficiency stat improved when Smart was on the floor for the Celtics last season.
[table id=Smart /]
While the table effectively speaks for itself, according to NBA Math’s FATS calculator, the Celtics played like a 56-win team when Smart was on the floor, as opposed to a 48-win team when he was not.
The analytics are fun, but Smart’s true value lies in his intangibles. You would be hard pressed to find a player in the league who plays with as much hustle and energy on every single play as Smart. No matter what situation, or whatever the risk to his body, Smart absolutely refuses to give up on plays, especially in loose ball situations.
Marcus Smart would jump on a bed of nails for a loose ball? pic.twitter.com/JSjMXM7Fh3
— Wicked Good Sports (@WickedGoodSprts) May 16, 2018
Perhaps it’s his combat muscles and bulldog-esque energy that holds the players around him more accountable. Perhaps it’s his unbelievable commitment to not only an organization, but a city. Perhaps it’s an opportunity to be the most beloved Celtic since Paul Pierce (just ask Weird Celtics Twitter.) Whatever the cause, the effect is clear. Smart is a tone-setter, and without his contributions, the Celtics are not the same team.
When someone asks how a player with limited scoring ability and questionable offensive decision making can possibly make $13 million a year in the modern NBA, have them watch a few Celtics games. It won’t take long for them to fall in love with Marcus Smart, as we have.