By Brian Robb, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) – Marcus Smart’s individual numbers during the 2016-17 season won’t jump off the page at you. In fact, some of them are quite underwhelming on the surface.
He’s shooting just 36.7 percent from the field and 31 percent from downtown. His per game numbers (10.1 points, 4.6 assists, 3.9 rebounds) are solid, but unspectacular.
Yet, when you look at the Celtics’ recent stretch of success, winning eight of nine games overall without starting shooting guard Avery Bradley, it’s hard to dispute the value Smart is showing on both ends of the floor.
His overall versatility was on full display during Thursday’s win over the Blazers. He flirted with team-highs in three different categories (6 rebounds, 5 assists, 5 steals) as the C’s fought back from a 17-point deficit.
“He was terrific,” Brad Stevens told reporters after the Portland win. “I just talked about his toughness with rebounding. He guarded Aminu and Harkless a lot, so he’s guarding bigger guys. But everybody is going to have to help us win a game, and tonight a lot of guys did, but tonight Marcus was good –- really good.”
With Jae Crowder sidelined against the Utah Jazz Saturday due to personal reasons, Smart will get his second straight start against one of the best teams in the Western Conference.
Opportunity is always important but the biggest obstacle for a 22-year-old player like Smart to reach his potential is usually consistency. You see flashes of strong play night in and night out, but it’s tough to string a bunch of positive games together. However, that’s exactly what Smart has done over the past three weeks. Take a closer look at this splits over the last 10 games.
That kind of production from the 6-foot-4 guard has also translated into success for the C’s all year long when he’s on the floor. He’s a good a plus 5.1 net rating on the year, the third best mark on the team behind Jae Crowder and Amir Johnson. He’s eased into a strong sixth man role off the bench with Jaylen Brown pushed into the starting lineup, helping him use his versatility to run the second unit offense, while also guarding 2-3 positions on the floor.
The fact Smart is starting to show success in a box score means a lot since his impact already goes beyond it with his defense. Whether it’s contesting 3-point shots, deflecting passes or boxing out bigger players in traffic, Smart makes winning plays on a nearly nightly basis. As long as he doesn’t try to do too much from a scoring standpoint, he’s going to be an invaluable weapon for Brad Stevens. A stronger focus in his post game has helped him become more efficient on the offensive front, helping him scale back a largely ineffective jumper.
The bottom line is the former No. 6 overall pick continues to make the strides necessary to cement his standing as a core part of Boston’s success. He has established himself as a player that his teammates turn to defensively set the tone for the C’s winning ways and that will bode well for the team’s future as they make a push for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
“It energizes everybody. Once he gets going it makes you want to go that much harder,” teammate Isaiah Thomas said this week. “He puts his body, his life on the line sometimes. He’s just going through guys and not caring what happens. He’s a monster, man. We need that from him each and every night.”
Brian Robb covers the Celtics for CBS Boston and contributes to NBA.com, among other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @CelticsHub.