ORLANDO – Rookie Marcus Smart has just started his NBA career, but after a week’s of worth of work with the Boston Celtics, he’s already earning rave reviews from his coaches and teammates.
The 20-year-old guard posted a mere 10 points on 2-of-8 shooting in his summer league debut in Orlando Saturday. Those numbers aren’t exactly impressive, but head coach Brad Stevens saw plenty of promising signs from the performance.
“A guy like Marcus, I couldn’t have been happier with his first summer league game,” Stevens said Sunday at practice. “He was 2-for-8 [from the field] and 0-for-5 [from 3-point range], but I really think he’ll grow and, his shot, I think that’s something that will come over time. I think the biggest thing is he just needs reps and beliefs and we’ll help him get there.”
While the young guard’s offense is a work in progress, a few butterflies may have also played a role in Smart’s lackluster shooting according to the guard himself.
“Nerves and everything,” said Smart about what caused his slow start. “I would rather be long [with shots] than short. Everything was on line, just long. Second game, just adjust and keep shooting.”
Teammate Kelly Olynyk has only shared the floor with Smart for a few days, but see plenty of promise in Smart’s offensive skills.
“He’s got a real bright future. He’s a real competitor, plays so hard, got great ball skills, can finish in the paint, shoots the ball. As his shot develops more and more, he is going to be a huge threat on the floor,” said Olynyk.
One area of Smart’s play that doesn’t need much improvement is his defense. The versatile guard posted a game-high six steals in Boston’s win on Saturday, wreaking havoc with ball pressure, timely double teams, and by breaking up passing lanes all over the floor.
“I was born and raised playing defense,” Smart said of his defensive mentality. “Every team I played with was a defensive minded team first before offense.”
Summer league head coach Jay Larranaga talked about how that kind of an environment in Smart’s past has prepared the guard to contribute right away on the defensive end in the NBA.
“Marcus, from what I understand, played for one of the best high school coaches in Texas and someone that stressed that defense,” Larranaga said. “He was considered one of the best defensive guards in the draft. With us, he’s continued to show that. Chris Johnson, very similar. They are buying into what coach wants. But they also have some really good habits that they’ve formed throughout their career.”
Stevens echoed those sentiments while reflecting on Smart’s debut.
“At the end of the day, he did so much defensively that is way beyond his years, not only physically but mentally. He’s obviously been well-coached, at multiple levels.”
Above all else, Smart has established himself as a favorite of the coaches early on which should bode well for his prospects in the team’s deep backcourt. As he continues to experiment with playing the one and two spots in Orlando, the Celtics will look to unlock other facets of his offense as he grows more comfortable within the NBA game.
“I think [Smart’s] an all-around player,” Larranaga said. “He’s about winning I think is what you see. He’s not about one thing or another thing. Like any young guy he has a lot of stuff to work on, but the really exciting thing is that he wants to win.”
Brian Robb covers the Celtics for CBS Boston and contributes to NBA.com, among other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @CelticsHub.
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