Smart missed 10 of the 11 shots he put up during Boston's win over the Orlando Magic on Monday night, leading some of his more vocal detractors to wonder if the No. 6 pick in the 2014 draft will ever be a serviceable offensive player. Make no mistake, Smart is struggling with his shot, shooting just 31.2 percent overall (44 of 141) and 19.7 percent beyond the 3-point arc (13 of 66) in Boston's 16 games since the All-Star break.
But dismissing his offensive production based on his shooting stats alone is simply lazy. It ignores the fact that, in that same 16-game span, the Celtics are averaging 105.1 points per 100 possessions with Smart on the floor, which is 2.6 points better than Smart's offensive rating in 34 appearances before the All-Star break.
What's more, Smart's post-All-Star net rating of plus-2.7 ranks second on the team behind only Jae Crowder (plus-5.1), a player whose shoes Smart has tried to help fill while Crowder has been sidelined the past five games due to a high ankle sprain. As spectacular as All-Star Isaiah Thomas has been recently, even he's only plus-2.1 in net rating since the All-Star break.
Smart had a now-famous stretch starting in late January -- after a snow-related postponement to a game in Philadelphia -- in which he shot 42.9 percent from beyond the 3-point arc over an 11-game span leading up to the All-Star break. The "Snow Day" practice that triggered his hot streak showed that Smart had the potential to be a more consistent shooter.
Smart absolutely has lost his touch since the break. But when he missed 10 shots on Monday night, including all five 3-pointers he attempted, some reacted as if he was hurting the team. The numbers suggest quite the opposite and a review of Smart's shot selection confirms that he's simply not knocking down quality looks.
Of the five 3-pointers that Smart attempted in Monday's game, the league's player-tracking cameras classified three as "open" (defender four to six feet away) and the other two as "wide open" (defender six-plus feet away). Four of the five attempts were catch-and-shoot looks, including two in which the ball found Smart open after offensive rebounds. The other was a pullup in transition in which Smart, after an aggressive outlet feed, tried to catch Orlando's defense on its heels.
In fact, of the 66 3-point attempts that Smart has taken since the All-Star break only one has been classified as "very tight" defense (defender zero to two feet away). Only 15 have been deemed "tight" defense (defender two to four feet away). The other 50 have all been "open" looks.
Are defenses challenging Smart to shoot? Absolutely. Could there be times when he should be more selective before firing away, given his struggles? Sure. But Smart seems to have coach Brad Stevens in his corner during this funk.
“[Sunday] he made some [shots] and had a pretty productive offensive day; [Monday] wasn’t his night," Stevens said. "You have to continue to shoot the good ones. You have to continue to shoot the right ones. When you shoot the right ones it allows you to rebound because you’re in position. He had a couple [Monday] where he had nice drives off of movement. He drove the slots, drove openings, and drove close-outs.
"He’s going to have to make the right play and continue to believe. We believe in him."
If you want to gripe about Smart's offense, you might be better off lamenting his inability to finish drives. Smart is more frequently attacking the basket now, finding his way to the rim while accelerating off of handoffs or coming off of pick-and-rolls. Far too often, however, Smart attacks without a plan, which has led to him either being blocked by the last line of defense or throwing up a wild attempt. Even his lone make on Monday was a floater between two defenders while being fouled.
Smart must continue to work on his perimeter shooting, especially those corner looks on which he's been downright abysmal (9 of 47, 19 percent; down nearly 20 percent from his rookie season). But just as important is learning to finish around the basket. Almost an equal amount of his shots have come in the restricted area (134) as via non-corner 3-pointers (159).
Before the start of the 2015-16 season, ESPN Insider posted profiles for every NBA player and Smart's closed with the note, "Frankly, Marcus Smart plays offense as if he's being defended by Marcus Smart."
It's a backhanded compliment that simultaneously praises his defensive efforts and accentuates his offensive struggles. FiveThirtyEight raised eyebrows when CARMELO produced a James Harden comparison, while suggesting Smart was on a "future All-Star" track.
Smart hasn't hit CARMELO's lofty projection of 6 wins above replacement. But he's at 3.61 for the season, which is still 111th out of 457 total players. For the season, Smart ranks 19th among all NBA point guards in Real Plus/Minus. He's only five spots behind All-Star teammate Thomas, thanks in part to his lofty placement in defensive RPM (fourth among point guards).
Smart, who is averaging 9.4 points, 4.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.6 steals over 27.1 minutes per game, has been a key part of Boston's bench success and Stevens leaned on him as a spot starter early in Crowder's absence, even though it left Smart guarding the likes of Paul George and Kevin Durant.
Smart turned 22 earlier this month. His progression this season hasn't been as obvious as some would have preferred, but even while deferring some ballhandling chores to Evan Turner on Boston's second unit, Smart has still showed improved point guard skills, including a dip in his turnover percentage. Smart has also been an aggressive rebounder for his size and looks more comfortable running the offense.
He's allowed his frustration with whistles -- both those that go against him and the ones he does not draw -- to fluster him at times. That included Monday's game against the Magic when, after believing he got fouled on a late fourth-quarter 3-point attempt, he failed to get back into the play and Orlando scored at the other end. Smart was quickly replaced by Turner.
Smart has to get better at not letting calls -- or the lack thereof -- affect him. He needs to become more efficient on the offensive end. But even when those shots are not falling, he's figured out a way to impact the Celtics in a positive way when he's on the floor.