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Why the calls for Celtics to trade Marcus Smart are tired and lazy

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Forsberg: Why smart trading is a bad idea? Let’s count the reasons originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

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The Boston Celtics struggled to create a consistent offense in the NBA Finals, hampered by ball safety in the first place. And some thought it meant it was time to think about trading again. Marcus Smart.


Smart is arguably the most controversial player in Boston sports. But “Trade Marcus Smart!” takes that pop-up every time the Celtics hit a speed bump, tired and often glossing over the fact that Smart is far from the team’s biggest problem.

Alas, it’s easy prey. You don’t trade superstars Jason Tatum as well as Jaylen Brown. you don’t move Robert Williams III based on his development and sweetheart contract renewal. No one takes 36-year-old Al Horford for a reward that will make you a better person without tying an exorbitant amount of assets to him. Trading Grant Williams or Payton Pritchard isn’t particularly sexy.

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So, Trade Wisely! because it’s brighter than “Use your trading eliminations to fix a fickle bench that really hurt your chances at the final.”

Smart was far from perfect in the Final. His defense against Stephen Curry was not as clear cut as I would like. He could not shoot at critical moments. He flipped the ball. And he couldn’t hold off an attack that too often got out of hand for a long time. But overall, the 2021-22 season suggests that Smart as a point guard was the least of Boston’s problems.

A few numbers to keep in mind when you slap your keyboard vending machine navigation:

Smart takes the keys

The Celtics have a net rating of plus 13.7 in the 1,170 minutes Smart has been a clear point guard this season, based on position tracked by Cleaning the Glass. This is the 99th percentile of all point guards.

The Celtics’ offensive rating, with Smart as the only point guard, was a solid 119.0, which would have led the NBA by almost three full points if it had been maintained. Boston’s expected total with Smart point guard was 70.

This continued the career-wide pattern of Smart playing his best basketball when he was the starting point guard. For most of his career, Smart lost the ball playing alongside Isaiah Thomas, Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker.

Even in the 2020/21 season, Smart only spent 27 percent of his total time on the court in the point guard position. That percentage rose to 51 percent last season. And the Celtics were dominant in this period. Imagine if you cut out all the times he checked in with Dennis Schroeder, which is a good reminder of what happens when you prioritize offense in that spot.

Dominant starting five point guard

Boston’s starting five of Smart, Tatum, Brown, Horford and Williams III had a plus-24.6 net rating in 443 regular season minutes. This was 4.4 points better than the next closest five-man squad (Philadelphia) who spent at least 250 minutes together. In fact, of the nine five-man squads that scored at least 400-plus minutes last season, the next closest group was plus-12.8 (Minnesota).

The Celtics’ starting players were bullies for most of the second half of the year. There is reason to believe that they certainly inflated the numbers by dominating weaker opponents, but this is exactly what the best teams usually do.

Boston’s starting group only played 138 minutes in the postseason over 12 games due to injuries. Their net rating was a much less brilliant plus-3.6, also indicative of increased competition.

Undeniably alarming is the fact that Boston’s offensive rating with this five dropped to a mediocre 107.3 over that period. The defense was still elite, but it would be fair to demand more from this group as a whole against the best teams.

Smart deflected the best offense in the NBA in the second half

Returning on January 23 after a six-game absence, Smart played quarterback on the NBA’s main offensive line in the last 35 games of the season. The Celtics posted a 120.2 offensive rating during this time, including a top 10 assist percentage (64.1, 6th).

Smart seemed to find the best balance between finding his own offense and building for his teammates, and all questions about his point guard potential faded at this stretch.

Post-season losses weren’t Smart’s problem

While much of the responsibility for getting a team to be more careful with basketball undoubtedly falls on the point guard, it’s important to remember that Smart has been far from the most egregious in terms of declining ball safety in the postseason.

Here’s a look at the Celtics’ turnover percentage (with percentile rank by position, according to Cleaning the Glass) between the regular season and the postseason. Only four out of Boston’s eight players have reduced their turnover percentage from the regular season to the playoffs, and Smart was one of them:

Marcus Smart was one of four Celtics to lower their postseason turnover percentage.

Mind is key to Boston’s defensive identity

Are there first pass point guards who could better highlight the Jays’ talent? Likely though, even those at the top of the dream wish list will be fighting to help the Celtics build the kind of offense they’ve done in the last 35 games of the regular season.

The more frustrating part is the fall that Boston would have suffered on the defensive side when moving from Smart to any league-average perimeter defenseman.

We can argue about how effective Smart’s defense is and whether he really was the best defender of the year. What is undeniable is that the difference between Smart and a backup level defender in his position is huge. Sure, there are times when Smart struggles, especially against stronger defenders, but his overall versatility, along with his ability to really bore opposing ball carriers on the front line, was invaluable in helping the Celtics establish the best defensive rating in the NBA (106, 2) this season.

Remember also what you lose if you move wisely. Good luck finding a point guard capable of defending Giannis Antetokounmpo through the long playoff games.

We understand that Smart has a small sweet spot. Either you unconditionally “love and trust” him (as Brad Stevens once suggested), or you are unwaveringly convinced that he is the root of all the team’s troubles, even if they were four and a half minutes from 3-1. The final is in the lead. Few live somewhere in between.

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be thinking about potential deals for Smart. There is some redundancy now with the addition of Derrick White and the Celtics are low on tradable assets.

It should also be noted that he is close to the peak of his value given the fact that: 1) he is a current DPOY, 2) he is playing with a reasonable extension, and 3) he is finishing a season in which the Celtics have thrived. with him the defender of the attack. But Smart is also the type of player who thrives as the third or fourth best player on a championship caliber team and find a trading partner who would like him to be, say, the centerpiece of a trade for a younger player with more potential. find.

The Celtics should absolutely be interested in adding a consistent ball handler off the bench who can take some of the stress out of Smart and the Jays on offense. After hearing people complain about his 3-point shots for years, spare me the suggestion that the Celtics should take Smart away from the ball more. Pick a lane here, folks.

Remember also what you lose if you move wisely. Good luck finding a point guard who can defend Giannis Antetokounmpo in long playoff games when you’re desperately trying to get another look at him. Good luck finding someone who can listen to the locker room, at least as long as Tatum’s voice keeps getting louder.

Boston’s most common assist combination this season was Smart and Tatum, who connected 113 times, the 16th best in the NBA last season. What are the next most common connections in a team? Smart to Brown (95 assists) and Smart to Williams III (62). The Celtics had no other combinations in the NBA top 100 this season.

Now the Celtics have more pressing needs. They must find a succession plan for Horford. They need more wing depth to reduce wear on the Jays. They have roadmaps for adding talent on the bench without having to send out the bulk and risk rocking the boat in a team that has finally found an identity.

The only thing you need to trade is Trade Smart takes.


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