Marcus Smart: The Next Great Perimeter Defender

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This week, Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix tweeted that the next great perimeter defender was none other than Boston’s Marcus Smart.

Due to some digging in Synergy by ESPN’s Chris Forsberg and some first hand quotes from members of the Celtics organization by MassLive’s Jay King, Mannix’s proclamation looks to be pretty spot on.

By The Numbers

  • Of the 279 Division 1 players that defended at least 250 possessions last season, Smart ranked fourth while allowing a mere 0.655 points per play, according to Synergy Sports data. Opponents shot just 27.6 percent against him overall. Smart also created turnovers on 13.9 percent of those total plays defended, a number that ranked him in the top quarter of that same sample.
  • Sticking with that same sample, Smart ranked fifth in score percentage (the percentage of possessions that finished with points) with opponents scoring on just 29 percent of total possessions last season. The average was 36.1 percent.
  • Zoom in on Smart in strictly man-to-man situations and his numbers improved even more. Smart allowed 0.618 points per possession, a number that ranked in the 95th percentile among all defenders. Of those with at least 225 defended possessions in man-to-man defense, Smart ranked fifth overall among 243 qualifiers.
  • The number that jumps out most in Synergy's play-type breakdown: Smart in post-up situations. Maybe showcasing his physicality, Smart allowed a mere 0.545 points per play defending in the post, while creating turnovers on 31.8 percent of those possessions (albeit, a small sample of just 22 possessions defended).

From His Peers

Jared Sullinger -
"I think the biggest thing that shocked me the most – everybody said how good of an offensive player he is – defensively he’s just as good. I think that’s a great attribute that he has, and the way he competes. He doesn’t let loose balls get away from him. He’s diving on loose balls, he’s trying to take charges, he’s doing it all."

Brad Stevens -
"I couldn’t have been happier with his first summer league game, and he was 2-for-8 (from the field) and 0-for-5 (from the 3-point arc). Because I really think he’ll grow in his shot, I think that it’s just something that will come over time. I think the biggest thing is, he just needs reps and belief. And we’ll help him get there. At the end of the day, he just did so much defensively that is way beyond his years, not only physically but mentally. He’s obviously been well-coached at multiple levels."

Jay Larranaga -
"I’d say the first thing you notice right away is what a competitor he is, the level of intensity he brings to every play offensively and defensively. He’s been a lot of fun to work with. I think we were very lucky we saw the leadership of Kevin Garnett, the leadership of Paul Pierce, and they lead by example more than anything else. So the example Marcus has set, even though he’s a young player, is that he plays hard, he values defense, he values team play. You have to lead by example before you do anything else."

Not that I’d be expecting his teammates and coaches to run him into the ground if he wasn’t worthy of the Celtics’ lottery pick, but these are all glowing recommendations of the Marcus Smart. While it probably won’t translate to a 60 win season, playoff berth, and silencing of pre-season critics, it is a silver lining around an otherwise dismal off-season devoid of the big moves that we all were hoping to see.

Follow Padraic O'Connor on Twitter @padraic_oconnor