It ain't the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog -- it's one of the oldest cliches in the book (right up there with "offense wins games, defense wins championships") and for a team whose best player is the same height as a tall ninth grader, it rings true. But for Danny Ainge and his cabal of front office wizards, there is one dog whose fight is so fierce that any prospective free agent would be happy to go to war with him, and that dog is Marcus Smart.

Whenever we look into our crystal ball to predict what Ainge can do to land a star, our gaze always lands on the gleaming jewels of Trader Danny's treasure trove; gobs of cap space, affordable (read: tradeable) contracts, and the draft pick equivalent of Billy King's immortal soul.

But what we rarely stop to think about is how immaterial those assets are. Put yourself in the shoes of a Kevin Durant, whose team is three wins away from a return to the conference finals, or Al Horford, whose Hawks have made the playoffs nearly every year of his career, and the allure of all the options at Ainge's disposal dulls quite a bit. 

The Celtics have the space to sign stars -- but they don't have any stars at the moment. 

They have the assets to acquire literally anyone on the market -- but who knows when someone worth such a haul will become available? 

They have what will most likely end up as three straight top ten picks, but with the looming chance of bad lottery luck and the basic timeline of NBA player development, it could be years before any of those become an upper-echelon player.

Put it all together and the package is still enticing, so long as you have something more concrete to give a Durant or a Horford the desire to play with what the Celtics actually have -- and that is where Marcus Smart fits so perfectly. 

The biggest thing a ball-dominant star needs to succeed are players that not only have the skill set to mesh on the court, but the attitude to do what needs to be done to put said star in a situation to optimize his production. And when you lay out everything he does to help his team win, it becomes obvious that Marcus Smart fits that bill about as well as any player in the league.

While his shooting was woeful for the season -- 25% from three, on an almost unconscionable number of attempts -- Smart showed as a rookie that he can be at least league average from behind the arc, an entirely necessary skill if he is ever going to be paired with a player who draws the kind of attention a true star does. But even without ever becoming a knock down shooter, Smart does all of the little things on the offensive end that top-level players relish from their counterparts.

The former Oklahoma State Cowboy is one of the best offensive rebounding guards in the entire league (for comparison's sake, Smart's 4.8% offensive rebounding rate is more than double that of Evan Turner, another guard renowned for his rebounding) mostly through sheer tenacity and athleticism. In fact, Smart's nose for the ball on the offensive end is so strong that Brad Stevens -- whose normal philosophy is to have his guards forgo crashing the boards to help limit fast breaks -- basically gave him the green light to chase misses, which Smart did with reckless abandon:

And while Smart's glass attacks queue up a few highlights, he still does plenty of other nitty-gritty things that teammates love. He is an excellent screen setter, so much so that Stevens involves him in pick and rolls with Isaiah Thomas or Evan Turner if he finds that forcing a switch would be advantageous -- a tactic Scott Brooks and Billy Donovan have used to great effect in having Russell Westbrook act as the screener in a Westbrook-Durant pick and roll. And though he is by no means smooth with the ball, Smart is one of the more turnover averse ball handlers in the league, and is certainly a willing passer who showed improvement as an off the dribble playmaker at times in his sophomore season.

Of course, Smart's defense is his calling card, and it goes without saying that he could easily take serious pressure off of a wing player by capably cross-matching. But Smart's defensive fire and versatility go far beyond that; over the course of just this season, Smart guarded a range of players from Stephen Curry to Dirk Nowitzki to Lebron James and handled each assignment admirably. He takes charges, fights on the boards, and will even take a hit to the wallet to try and draw a foul.

So while draft picks and cap space portend a bright future for any player who decides to undertake the daunting task of learning to navigate a town designed for horse carriages, it's the cards already in your hand that tell you whether to bet or fold. And with a young bulldog around who crashes the boards, gives up his body, takes care of the ball, and fights until the very end, the Celtics have the sort of hand that a superstar should be willing to ride with.

Follow Brenton on twitter @BBTruth8294
Photo courtesy of the Associated Press via wbur.org
Video courtesy of the "2015-16 season" youtube page.
All statistics courtesy of basketball-reference.com

Brenton Bauerle 5/04/2016 10:00:00 AM Edit
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