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NBA Sunday: Rondo Injury Creates Opportunity for Smart

Rondo’s injury creates opportunity for rookie point guard Marcus Smart … Cavaliers make another trade … Tyreke Evans out three-to-five weeks due to a hamstring injury

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Rondo Injury Creates Opportunity for Marcus Smart

On Friday, the Boston Celtics suffered a major setback as Rajon Rondo underwent surgery to repair his broken left hand (a left metacarpal fracture), which will keep him out of action for 6-8 weeks. While the situation is unfortunate for both Rondo and the Celtics, there may be a silver lining as Rondo’s absence opens up a big opportunity for rookie point guard Marcus Smart to step in and gain valuable experience.

The Celtics drafted Smart, who played two seasons at Oklahoma State, with the sixth overall pick in this year’s NBA Draft. In a draft class that is loaded with NBA talent, Smart stands out as being one of the most NBA-ready players. Smart spent two seasons in college, whereas other top rookies like Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid, and Aaron Gordon only played one season of college basketball. In his second season at Oklahoma State, Smart increased his scoring from 15.4 points per game to 18, slightly increased his assist average, cut down on turnovers and got to the free throw line more often. Smart also learned a hard lesson when he lost his temper and confronted a Texas Tech fan who made offensive comments to him during a game. Smart was suspended for three games and learned that no matter what fans say, it’s never appropriate to confront them in the stands and make physical contact with them.

In addition to spending two years in college, Smart spent part of this offseason training with Team USA in Las Vegas. Smart and fellow rookie Doug McDermott were the only two members of this year’s draft class to participate in the USA training camp. Smart and McDermott, who played four seasons of college basketball, were favored over bigger names like Wiggins and Parker. As many players have noted in the past, playing with team USA is a valuable opportunity for young players to learn training habits from some of the best players in the NBA. When asked about the chance to compete against some of the best basketball players in the world, Smart had only positive things to say.

“That experience was, I would probably say, the highlight of my summer,” said Smart. “I was a part of a group of people, and a group of men who were selected to represent our country. I was one of two rookies, me and Doug McDermott, being invited to play on the select team. That’s an honor in itself, but I’ve been involved with USA since the U-18 and they still keep calling me back, so that just shows how much they respect me playing for them, and how much I respect playing and representing my country.”

Beyond having more experience than many of the other incoming rookies, Smart also has the physical tools to be an impact player from day one. Smart measured 6’3 ¼ in shoes, with a 6’9 ¼ wingspan, and weighed in at 227 pounds at the NBA Combine. Smart has a great combination of size, strength and length, which will allow him to compete effectively against some of the bigger point guards in the league, like John Wall and Russell Westbrook. In a league that is littered with talented point guards, having a physical point guard who can defend opposing point guards effectively is important. And with Smart playing alongside Avery Bradley, the Celtics will have one of the tougher defensive backcourts in the league (especially when Rondo returns).

Where Smart needs to improve is shooting the ball from three-point range. In his first season at Oklahoma State, Smart shot 29 percent from beyond-the-arc, and 29.9 percent in his sophomore season. Smart’s shooting mechanics are not bad, but he will need to add more consistency if he is to make the most of his offensive skill-set at the next level. For now, Smart knows that he is best in transition, scoring at the rim, and creating scoring opportunities for his teammates. Though Smart only averaged 4.8 assists per game last season, he is effective at driving to the rim and kicking the ball out to shooters on the perimeter. Moving forward, Smart has the opportunity to learn from Rondo—one of the best passing point guard in the league—how to become a better playmaker and create more scoring opportunities for his teammates. To Smart’s delight, Rondo seems to have already embraced the opportunity to be a mentor to Smart.

“I was expecting [Rondo] to be like, ‘Rookie’ – kind of shunning me off, pushing me to the side, and kind of learn on my own,” Smart said. “It’s nice. Those guys, they try to help you, until we start playing, then obviously they are trying to beat you. When we’re working out, they are trying to help and trying to make sure you know everything before you go out there and do it.

“I’ve been guarding [Rondo] and he’s been guarding me; it’s totally different from what I expected it to be. Like I’ve been saying, he’s one of the premier guards and his play shows why he is. Some of the things that he does on the court, it’s like, ‘How did he do that?’ Just being able to be around him and learn from him is an amazing thing.”

To be fair to Smart, no one should expect him to replace Rondo’s nightly impact on the court. As experienced as Smart is, even the best rookies tend to struggle as they adjust to playing against NBA players. But Smart now has the opportunity to prove that he is one of the most NBA-ready rookies, and that he is a legitimate candidate to win Rookie of the Year.

If Smart is able to show that he is a long-term solution at point guard for the Celtics, it may give them some added leverage regarding Rondo, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. Both Rondo and the Celtics have said they want to stay together long-term, but the Celtics are in the middle of a re-build, and it may not make sense to pay Rondo what other teams may be willing to (especially considering that Eric Bledsoe just landed a five-year, $70 million deal with the Suns). Rumors have swirled around this issue all summer, and this latest setback just adds another complication to the situation.

Losing Rondo for the first few weeks of the upcoming season is an unfortunate setback for a young Celtics team that is trying to rebuild after years of competing for championships. The bright side is that the Celtics have one of the most talented young point guards in the league to fill in and try and to make the most of this opportunity.

Cavaliers Trade Bogans to the Philadelphia 76ers

On Saturday, the Cleveland Cavaliers traded guard Keith Bogans, who they acquired earlier this week from the Boston Celtics, to the Philadelphia 76ers. Along with Bogans, the Cavaliers also sent a future second-round pick to the 76ers in the deal. In return, the Cavaliers received a $5.3 million trade exception.

Notably, by moving Bogans, the Cavaliers surrendered the opportunity to combine Bogan’s non-guaranteed $5,513,435 salary for next season with center Brendan Haywood’s non-guaranteed $10,522,500 salary for next season, which could have been used to acquire another star player next summer. Moving Bogans was a cost-cutting move, which gets the Cavaliers further below the NBA’s $78 million luxury-tax threshold for the upcoming season.

Tyreke Evans out 3-5 Weeks 

The New Orleans Pelicans announced on Saturday that Tyreke Evans will miss three-to-five weeks due to a hamstring injury.

“Tyreke injured his hamstring playing pickup basketball out of town last week,” Dell Demps said in a statement. “He is back in New Orleans rehabbing with our medical staff. Hopefully, he will be cleared to play before the season-opener.”

This is unfortunate news for a Pelicans team that is looking to have a bounce-back season after losing several players to injury last season. Hopefully Evans will be able to play by the beginning of the upcoming season. However, hamstring injuries tend to linger if a player rushes back before he is ready. With that in mind, it makes most sense for the Pelicans to not rush Evans back.

Jesse Blancarte is a Deputy Editor for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney and a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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