When the Boston Celtics selected Marcus Smart 6th overall in last months draft, many considered it the surest sign yet Boston no longer considered Rajon Rondo part of their long terms plans. After all, in broad strokes Smart seemed like the perfect replacement for Rondo as an extremely athletic, competitive, defensively impactful point guard. On the downside Smart also shared a questionable jumpshot and worries about his temper with the 4-time all-star selection.
However, since the draft, the rumor mill has been remarkably silent with respect to Rondo. This isn’t to say that he won’t be traded, but nothing appears imminent based upon current (or rather, lack of) reports. So what does this mean for the Celtics in general and Smart’s role in particular?
Considering the Celtics also drafted James Young 17th overall, re-signed Avery Bradley to a big contract, and even added Evan Turner (yech), it doesn’t appear the team sees him as anything other than a point guard. Putting Smart at the two alongside Rondo would present somewhat severe spacing issues in the backcourt. Rondo’s shooting issues from distance are well-documented, but perhaps overblown if he can return to his pre-ACL accuracy from mid-range:
Still, Rondo’s lack of 3-point range combined with Smart’s poor accuracy from distance (just under 30 percent on a lot of attempts as a sophomore), would seem to invite opponents to collapse the lane against this lineup, making both players’ preferred drive-and-kick games less effective. This lack of catch-and-shoot ability means both guys are much more effective with the ball than off the ball, leading to a bit of redundancy and inefficiency offensively.
On the other end of the court, Smart projects to be a defensive force, making this a theoretically terrorizing back court. Unfortunately, Rondo had largely been resting on his laurels defensively even before blowing out his knee in January 2013. Meanwhile rookies, even those with the defensive pedigree and physical tools of Smart, usually struggle mightily on D. Further, despite his imposing build, Smart might be a touch undersized against bigger NBA wings. He’s unlikely to get overpowered, but contesting shots might be an issue if asked to spend much time on the Joe Johnsons or DeMar DeRozans of the world.
By comparison, a Smart-Bradley backcourt makes a bit more sense. Bradley’s defensive reputation is as deserved as Rondo’s is outdated. The on-ball pressure this pairing would be able to exert is something the NBA hasn’t seen since perhaps the heyday of the Bad Boy Pistons. Still, there might be an adjustment period for Smart to the consistency with which NBA refs are likely to whistle excessive perimeter contact. It would not be a surprise if he was a touch foul prone early in the season.
Offensively, Bradley is best deployed almost exclusively off the ball. He doesn’t provide perfect spacing options:
Bradley prefers to shoot coming off curls at the elbows or spotting up for shorter corner 3s. Though it would be preferable if he had legitimate above the break 3-point range, the fact that he gets into these areas off cuts rather than off the dribble would allow more space for Smart to function.
Considering his lack of consistent shooting touch, Smart will need some help spreading the floor for his bulldozer-like attacks at the rim. Though he was an excellent finisher in traffic last season at the collegiate level, Smart was also fairly turnover prone, though less so as a sophomore than as a freshman.
Looking at the roster, the Celtics are at least a season if not more from playoff contention. With Smart-Bradley having better lineup synergy than Rondo and Smart (not to mention Smart carrying a significantly smaller salary), the plan almost has to be to trade Rondo sooner rather than later, as long as general manager Danny Ainge feels he’s getting enough in return.