By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Don’t look now, but Marcus Smart has become an average shooter. Like a real life, average NBA shooter.
And believe it or not, it has nothing to do with his fancy new hairdo.
The Celtics guard has never been afraid to put up a shot. Any shot for that matter, especially from behind the arc. A career 29 percent shooter from three-point land heading into the season, that propensity to let ’em fly has led to some rather frustrating nights for Celtics fans, even when Smart’s stellar defense more than made up for his shooting deficiencies.
But the 2018-19 season has been different. Smart has looked much more confident on the floor, especially when stepping back and hoisting a triple. For a player whose game relies heavily on confidence, it’s been a major difference.
Smart dropped 12 points in Boston’s 116-95 win over the Brooklyn Nets on Monday night, hitting four of his eight shots from three-point range (he shot 4-of-10 overall). Four made threes usually isn’t something to write home about, but this marks the first time in his five-year career that Smart has drained at least four triples in two straight games. In Boston’s wins over the Dallas Mavericks and Nets, Smart shot a combined 9-of-16 from deep.
After missing his first three-point bid early in the game Monday night, the Brooklyn bench began to chirp Smart, begging him to heave more threes. Smart obliged 20 seconds later, hitting his first of the evening. Then he hit another. Then another. And another.
“They wanted me to keep shooting, so I made sure they lived with that and had to take it back with them,” Smart told reporters after the win.
The Brooklyn bench didn’t have much to say about Smart’s shooting the rest of the night. His fourth and final made three of the evening came with 3:28 to go in the second quarter, giving Boston a 15-point advantage at the time.
He missed his final three attempts of the night (incredibly, he only attempted three more after making four straight), Smart is now hitting a respectable 34.7 percent from downtown this season. The NBA league average this year sits at 35.3 percent.
So how did Marcus Smart, the causer of so many headaches in Boston’s three-happy offense, become an average three-point shooter? Practice, of course. Or rather, some practice after practice.
A handful of Celtics hold a three-point shootout at the end of practice, essentially playing “Around The World” from the three-point line. Each player has to hit five straight shots from a spot (the corner, the top of the key, the elbow, etc) to move on, and if they miss a shot, their turn is over. Whoever goes the farthest wins.
While the game is mostly for bragging rights between Smart, Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier, it’s done wonders for Smart’s in-game performance.
“We’re getting shots up, game shots, where every shot counts because you’re trying to win and, if you miss one, one guy could get hot and take over. So you gotta really focus,” Smart told NBC Sports Boston’s Chris Forsberg. “And you’ve got guys bonding together, so that’s always a good thing, too.”
Just because Smart is hitting threes like an actual NBA player doesn’t mean teams will start respecting his shot anytime soon, and nor should they. He’s gone through hot stretches before in his career, only to careen back down to the bowels of the league. It’s a safe bet that Smart will likely go through another shooting slump soon that will bring his three-point numbers back down to Smart average and not NBA average.
But teams egging him on to shoot more from deep is something Smart relishes.
“I love it. I’ve been working hard at it, so I’m ready to show it off,” he said Monday night. “If you’re going to give me the chance to, I’m going to take it.”
Smart finished his Monday evening with seven assists, four rebounds and a pair of steals to go with his dozen points. Oh, and one fancy hairstyle that features his No. 36 and a shamrock on the top of his head:
That do was the talk of the town before the game, and Smart’s three-point shooting has only slightly taken away from it. He credited former Celtic Gerald Green for the inspiration (Green sported a similar style back on Opening Night 2016), though Smart added his own flair.
“Gerald kind of inspired me to get the shamrock, and we added a little flavor with the 36,” he said with a smile.
Like the look or not, as long as Smart keeps hitting threes like an NBA player, he can wear his hair any way he wants.