The most polarizing Celtic made a small bit of news earlier this week. No, Marcus Smart hasn't been traded (yet) or gotten into trouble off the court. Smart was among the 25 collegiate and NBA players selected to the 2016 USA Basketball Select Team.
Smart has been a part of the Team USA program since 2013. After his freshmen season at Oklahoma State, he was member of the gold medal team in the 2013 FIBA U19 World Championships. Later that year, Smart was invited to the National Team minicamp before being selected to the Select Team in 2014.
Not to overstate the three-day experience as this, of course, hinges on him is still playing in Boston next season, but this experience could prove to be beneficial for Smart and the Celtics.
25 named to 2016 USA Men’s Select Team that will train July 18-21 with USA National Team in Las Vegas https://t.co/99SvhSwPfa #USABMNT— USA Basketball (@usabasketball) June 7, 2016
Remember Boston's early season win on the road at Oklahoma City?
Smart had a career-high 26 points while holding Russell Westbrook 5-20 shooting the game. After the game, Westbrook had this to say when asked if there was anything special about the way Smart played that night.
Via Jay King:
"No," Westbrook said. "I don't agree with you. But no, he had a good game. But there's 82 games. I do this. Don't get it twisted."
The real meat in that statement isn't Westbrook rejecting to really laud Smart and his performance that night. That's Westbrook being Westbrook - an uber competitive athlete who has never been in the business of applauding his opponent. It's the last seven words of that quote that stick out.
His sheer confidence comes from his track record as one of the league's elite players for years now. Westbrook's off night was one of the few blemishes on a season that ended with 18 triple-doubles (most triple-doubles in a season since Magic Johnson in 1981-82) and All-NBA First Team selection.
Despite matching his career-high point total during a January loss in Orlando, Smart for the remainder of the regular season failed to match the brilliance of that night in Oklahoma City.
This is where his Select Team invitation comes into play.
There have been examples of the Team USA experience reaping immediate dividends. While it may be a simple progression in a player's career, in my opinion, it isn't a coincidence that Charles Barkley, LeBron James, and Stephen Curry each won their first MVP awards after a summer of basketball with Team USA. It isn't a coincidence that Kevin Durant went from elite scorer to holding residence as the one of the top five players in the league after a sizzling performance in the 2010 FIBA World Championships. It isn't a coincidence that James Harden became a MVP runner-up after playing in the 2014 FIBA World Championships.
Competing with not just your peers, but with some of the best players in the world is an opportunity for Smart to see where his game needs improvement. His development still should require a measure of patience. Whatever criticisms of his inconsistent play or flop-tastic behavior should be viewed under the prism of remembering his still just 22. But how much of a jump should we expect in year number three from the sixth overall pick of the 2014 NBA Draft?
Adam Silver probably won't be handing Marcus the MVP trophy anytime soon, but is being in the mix for a Sixth Man or Most Improved Player award unrealistic? We've seen flashes of his potential, whether it was that night in Oklahoma City or his Game 4 performance against Atlanta. For Marcus, it's a matter turning those flashes into something Celtics fans see on semi-nightly to nightly basis.
Even if it's just for a few days, Marcus Smart's road to "I Do This" territory may start with Team USA this summer.
Photo Credit: Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
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Patrick Bernadeau 6/10/2016 09:00:00 AM Tweet Edit