BOSTON – There’s been very little for Celtics fans to get excited about this summer. Instead of a potential blockbuster deal involving Kevin Love, the Celtics front office handed their fans a pu pu platter of Marcus Thornton, Tyler Zeller, and Evan Turner as the “notable” additions to the roster. A mismatched depth chart combined with an improved Eastern Conference likely spells another challenging season ahead for Brad Stevens and co.
Despite that reality, the one thing Celtics fans should be excited about is this team’s youth. Guys like Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk should continue their progression, but there might be no one on the team with a brighter future than point guard Marcus Smart. The no. 6 overall pick was widely expected to be one of the most NBA-ready players selected in the 2014 NBA Draft, especially since the 20-year-old likely would have been a top selection in last year’s draft if he came out after his freshman year at Oklahoma State.
Smart returned for his sophomore season to hone his game though, and that additional experience helps explain why Smart was just one of two rookies (along with Doug McDermott) invited to take part in the Team USA training camp this week in Las Vegas. Smart joined another 10-12 players from around the league to make up the US Select Team. Select Team players don’t have any chance of making the national team, but provide some good competition for the top dogs on Team USA as they prep for the FIBA world championship later this month in Spain.
Heading into this week, it’s fair to believe most observers felt that Smart would have had his hands full going up against All-Stars at his position such as Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving, Derrick Rose, and John Wall at Team USA training camp. Those guys make up the cream of the crop in the NBA, especially from an offensive standpoint.
According to numerous reports from both scouts and reporters watching Smart play against these point guards in Vegas though, Smart did more than hold his own. Here is one report from Bobby Gonzalez of SheridanHoops.com who was a former college head coach of Manhattan and Seton Hall:
I did manage to watch the point guards a bit. Damian Lillard was disappointing, and there was a stretch where both Marcus Smart and Victor Oladipo of the Select Team flat-out took it to Wizards teammates John Wall and Bradley Beal…While there is a point guard battle going on with the national team, the Select Team had young point guards who also did some damage today, further stressing that the future of the point position in the NBA is in good hands with Marcus Smart and Trey Burke.
That kind of description should make the Celtics fans (and the team’s front office) giddy about the future of their backcourt, especially on the defensive end of the floor. There’s no doubt Smart has plenty of untapped potential, especially in the offensive part of his game but if he can stand out against some of the best in the NBA right now, his future prospects look even better.
Can you imagine a Celtics defense down the road featuring Smart and Avery Bradley wreaking plenty of havoc and providing consistent ball pressure against opposing offenses? If Danny Ainge is available to find a true rim protector to shore up the lane in the next season or two, the Boston’s defense has the potential to become of the top groups in the league under the guidance of Stevens.
Smart’s showing at Team USA training camp is also a great way for him to impress and connect with fellow NBA players. The Team USA program makes a strong impact on players of all ages and helps guys form bonds down the road (see: LeBron, Wade, and Bosh). Smart may not be forming a super team of his own over there quite yet, but he isn’t just improving his own game. If the Celtics want to reel in top free agents over the remainder of the decade, a promising youngster like Smart makes the team a more attractive destination
Ultimately, Smart will have to prove his value on the NBA floor as opposed to an international training camp. Still, the early returns on Smart in summer league and during this past week in Las Vegas show the Celtics may have gotten a steal with Smart falling to them in the 2014 NBA Draft. With so many top rookies facing injury (Joel Embiid) or experience (Dante Exum) questions, Smart is a player who is already proving that his play should translate quite well from the college game to the NBA level.
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