The Boston Celtics benefited from a large, fierce, and altered defense to grind opposing offenses to dust throughout the year. Boston’s 106.2 defensive ranking ranks thirdresearch and development In the NBA, in cleaning the glass.
The Celtics have been particularly stingy in the past two weeks, a stretch during which the meager team saw the 98.9 points allowed per 100 ownership to take the league lead, just over 6.0 points from the second-placed Miami Heat.
Boston’s defensive dominance is beginning to translate into victories, and if it continues to hold up all year, it should draw some attention to individual honors among its components. Determining which of the Celtics’ talented defenders deserve the most credit for Boston’s success is no easy task, but Marcus Smart is emerging as a potential candidate for the prestigious NBA Defensive Award: Defensive Player of the Year.
Smart doesn’t have any holes in the defensive end of the field. He is a tenacious defender on the ball with speed, height and power to disrupt a variety of opponents’ perimeter players.
The clever navigates the screens on and off the ball with aplomb, although Celtics’ heavy switch scheme doesn’t necessarily take full advantage of that specific skill. However, he frequently uses his ability to defend larger players at the post. Smart is a brick wall with blunt and blunt hands, and he can pretty much handle everyone but the best player in the NBA.
Boston alternates a lot of action in the context of one possession, creating opportunities for opponents to get the ball into the best scoring option without using Smart as the primary defender, but it is an absolute threat as a defensive playmaker. 1.8 steals per game and ranks fourth in the league.
Smart has the uncanny ability to get into pass-and-driving lanes to make transformations without losing track of his leg. He’s an amazing final artist and an incredibly fast wizard, two skills that enable him to get things off the ball more aggressively than most of his peers without compromising his primary mission.
Smart causes all kinds of good chaos in the transition, too. His ability to stand up to opponents in the second half and compete without faults is almost unparalleled.
Unsurprisingly, Boston was much better defensively when Smart was on the ground. Celtics 104.0 Net Minutes Not Neglected Time Ranks 93research and development The league-wide percentage, per glass cleaning, of 5.6 points per 100 ownership is better than when Smart sits down.
And so the question becomes, why isn’t Smart currently getting a lot of attention as a DPOY filter? The answer is twofold. One reason is that the Celtics roster is full of defensive talent. Smart is clearly a top-tier defensive player, but his statistical impact is indistinguishable from many of his teammates, who also bring impressive resumes to the table.
This is not a bad thing. The NBA’s best defenses are built on team effort and attention to detail. The fact that Boston has so many outstanding defenders shouldn’t count against Smart, but it will always make his individual impact more difficult to understand.
The larger issue at hand is that the prevailing wisdom suggests that guards and wards are simply incapable of making as great a defensive effect as adults. There is logic in this idea. Adults spend more time deterring shots through the basket, which has great defensive value. The best of them – Rudy Gobert, Draymond Green, Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmue, Pam Adebayo – can raise their defense for efficiency on their own.
They are players around whom you can create a defensive ecosystem, able to unlock defensive strategies that would fail without them or enable their team to play multiple modes based on matches. Clever isn’t exactly the former, but it sure is the latter. And while he may not be the cornerstone of the Celtics’ changing scheme in the way Joubert takes Jazz style, he’s clearly taking things from good to great.
Teams intentionally avoid him because he is a good one-on-one defender. They make use of Boston Keys to attack elsewhere, but Smart got so good help that opponents basically limit themselves to putting him on a roll where he can sway every game. There are no good options and very few ways to stop him from making his mark on the match defensively. This is a sign of a special defensive talent. One worth seriously considering as a DPOY.