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Smart Already Posing Challenges on Defense

The Boston Celtics didn’t draft for need when they selected Marcus Smart, but it may have been the smartest pick to make.

Jessica Camerato

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The pick raised some eyebrows. With all but five players available on the board, the Boston Celtics selected Marcus Smart sixth overall in last month’s NBA Draft. Not only did the team already have a point guard, they have one of the best at that position in Rajon Rondo.

This week, the 20-year-old has been showing why the Celtics didn’t pass up on young talent during the Orlando Pro Summer League. In a game where many players rush to make an impact with flashy offense, Smart has made a strong first impression on the defensive end. And there’s always room for defense on a roster.

“Defensively, [he] really caused some havoc,” Kelly Olynyk said.

During Sunday’s debut against the Miami HEAT, Smart’s offensive struggles (10 points, 2-8 from the field, 0-5 from three-point range) were overshadowed by his five rebounds and game-high five steals in 28 minutes. The aggressive effort was not a first-time fluke. Smart takes a defensive mindset into every game.

“I was born and raised playing defense,” Smart said. “Every team I played with was a defensive-minded team first before offense, so it was always defense.”

His mentality meshes with the Celtics guards. Avery Bradley is one of the league’s grittiest backcourt defenders while Rondo is crafty on D. Both were groomed under Doc Rivers’ defensive-focused system and will help Smart enhance those skills once they begin playing together.

Smart is currently sharing the backcourt with Phil Pressey, who recorded six rebounds and three steals in Monday’s loss to the Indiana Pacers. His ability to play both point guard and shooting guard gives the Celtics versatility in Orlando and allows the team to get a look at Smart playing in various roles, as he could be asked to do during the season.

He is comfortable at either spot, noting that being in the shooting guard position allows him to use his athleticism and physicality in the open court. Olynyk observed how utilizing two point guards together can give the Celtics an advantage.

“The way we swing the ball and setting ball screens for him makes it real tough on teams,” Olynyk said. “Coming off the first ball screen then all of sudden you throw it back, swing it quick, and now you get a second ball screen by another point guard, that’s real tough to guard. I don’t think it’s really a matter of playing the one or the two for him and Phil. I think it’s trying to work together and making defenses play us real tough.”

While Smart poses challenges for his opponents, he is working through his own adjustments to the pro level. He admitted to having nerves in his first game and had challenges at the basket against the Pacers as well. He shot 3-15 from the field and 1-5 from long range. Smart has shown poise at the line, shooting 10-for-12 in two games.

“[Getting to the free throw line is] very important,” said Smart. “I’m a very good free throw shooter. I’m physical so that’s going to help me a lot. It helps my game and the team in a tremendous way. It’s us getting fouls on the other team, personal foul, team foul, we get to score with the clock not running so that helps us a lot.”

The Celtics expect Smart will be able to help them in many more ways as he continues to progress. He impressed the organization prior to the draft, and his teammates have quickly welcomed him into the system.

“He’s got a real bright future,” Olynyk said. “He’s a real competitor, plays so hard, has great ball skills, can finish in the paint, shoot the ball. As his shots develops more and more, he’s going to be a huge threat on the floor.”

Jessica Camerato is a bilingual reporter who has been covering the NBA since 2006. She has also covered MLB, NHL and MLS. A graduate of Quinnipiac University, Jessica is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association and the Association for Women in Sports Media.

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