Every championship team needs its glue guy.
Without Andre Iguodala, the Warriors proved to be quite vulnerable when the Rockets pushed them to the brink in this year’s conference finals. Without Shane Battier, the Lebron-led Heat teams would have never had that extra gear to push them to a championship. Without Lamar Odom, the Kobe-Pau Lakers never regained their status as title contenders.
The most distinguished glue guy to ever step foot on a basketball court was one Robert Horry. “Big Shot Bob” never came close to being a star when he played, but he will always be remembered for his consistent abilities to come through in the clutch for seven championship teams over his 16-year career.
Stars are without a doubt the main ingredient to any championship team in this league, but the glue guys are the ones that add the finishing touches.
There aren’t set criteria for what makes a player a “glue guy”. He doesn’t necessarily have to be a dead-eye three-point shooter. He doesn’t have to be a top-notch athlete. He doesn’t have to be a defensive guru or a scoring spark. What qualifies a player for the title of glue guy is his ability to give his team an extra edge.
Since joining the league in 2014, Marcus Smart has become the NBA’s ultimate glue guy, which primarily comes from him being one of the league’s most unique players.
In the past four years, Smart has been the living embodiment of a mixed bag. From the very get-go, Smart has been one of the league’s best, most versatile defenders, capable of holding his own against just about any player of any height. Better yet, his effort and hustle for loose balls really set the tone for the Celtics’ defense on a nightly basis. Anyone who has watched him would tell you that Smart would put his life on the line if it meant bettering his team.
That, unfortunately, has been evened out by Smart’s offensive shortcomings, specifically shooting-wise. Smart’s shooting percentages are not just bad. They’re historically bad. Smart has consistently shot in the 35-36 range percentage-wise from the field, including only breaking through the 30 percent from three-point barrier twice in his four-year career.
But that’s what makes watching Smart so entertaining. He’s never been afraid of the moment. It doesn’t matter if he gets blocked in embarrassing fashion as he drives for a layup or if he airballs a wide-open three-pointer. If given the chance, Smart will try those exact same actions again without a second thought.
Even if his shooting numbers are flat-out egregious, metrics have proven that the Celtics offense has been better with Smart on the floor than off. This year, the Celtics were +1.1 points per 100 possessions on offense with Smart on the floor during the regular season and were +0.7 points per 100 possessions with Smart on the floor in the playoffs as well.
Those aren’t the most impressive numbers, but for someone who shoots at an impressively bad rate as Smart, those stats show that he can still be useful offensively. Smart’s versatility, as he can play positions 1-3, as well as his passing abilities, as his assist averages have gone from up from three to five a game, may have something to do with that.
Smart’s tenacity on both sides of the ball, for better or worse, makes him a winning player in this league, which effectively made him the first building block of the Brad Stevens era.
Smart technically wasn’t on the Celtics when Brad Stevens first took over as head coach, but he joined the team just as the wheels started turning in the Brad Stevens era. From the last days of Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green to the brief but productive days of Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder to the potentially glorious of days of Kyrie Irving and Jayson Tatum among others, Smart’s been there to do his fill for the Celtics. Judging off of the agreement that he and the Celtics came to, it sounds like the role he has is the one he wants for a long time.
A few months back, I had written about Smart’s upcoming free agency, believing that his best course of action was to take the qualifying offer, but the agreement between Smart and the Celtics showed that both sides truly wanted Smart to be a Celtic long-term.
On the Celtics side, they could have ridden out Smart’s restricted free agency, lowballed him even less or have him take the qualifying offer so that they could avoid the luxury tax. On Smart’s side, with the market dried up, Smart could have taken the qualifying offer, played out the season then see who would be interested in his services next summer in a free agency that’s expected to have a lot more available money.
Instead, the two came agreed because both wanted Smart to remain a Celtic, and why wouldn’t they? There’s a fair argument that without Smart, the Celtics could have been eliminated as early as the first round. The Bucks had the Celtics right where they wanted them when they tied them 2-2 in the first round, but when Smart came back from his wrist injury the following game, he gave the Celtics another dimension that sealed the Bucks’ fate.
Though Smart’s contributions played a key role in avoiding the upset against the Bucks, it was Smart’s play against the Sixers in the second round, specifically in the last minute of the series-clinching win in Game 5, that showed not just how important Smart is to the Celtics, but also summarized the Marcus Smart experience as a whole.
In the last minute of Game 5 with the Celtics down a bucket, Smart did the following:
-Tipped in a missed lay-up by Jayson Tatum to tie the game
-Forced Dario Saric to turn the ball over on a risky no-call
-Found Tatum in the post for the go-ahead layup
-Missed a free throw he was trying to make
-Made a free throw he was trying to miss
-Intercepted Ben Simmons’ hail mary heave as time expired
Did Smart win that game by himself? No, but he was the catalyst to the Celtics’ victory. If it hadn’t been for him, the Celtics could have very well gone back to Philadelphia with only a one-game lead and all the momentum shifting to the Sixers’ side. Instead, Boston went on to their second consecutive conference finals in a gentleman’s sweep.
Smart may not be a star, but his impact on the Celtics is undeniable. Fans have been wondering for years if Smart was the right pick when the Celtics took him sixth overall in the 2014 draft. To answer that, they must know that Brad Stevens has valued versatility above everything else since becoming the Celtics’ head coach. Smart’s style isn’t the prettiest, but he fits Stevens’ versatile way of thinking to a T, meaning that, in the end, he helps his team win.
Even if he’ll give everyone a heart attack first.
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