Boston Celtics wing Marcus Smart, despite standing at just 6-foot-4, has done a phenomenal job defending players much larger than he is.
The 25-year-old made All-Defensive 1st Team last season but has taken another leap forward with a bigger role this year. His ability to switch on to centers has been a focal point of Boston’s defensive identity and something that allows coach Brad Stevens to use his five-man lineups in a different way than almost any other team in the league.
We looked at all of the opponents that Smart has guarded so far this season, then isolated just the players who are classified as big men by Cleaning the Glass.
Based on this research of 146 possessions, Smart has allowed just 16.3 points per 70 possessions. These players are shooting 36.7 percent from the floor on 30 attempts.
For example, look at when Dallas Mavericks’ Kristaps Porzingis attempted three post-up attempts against Smart on November 12. The 7-foot-3 big was not able to convert any, however, despite the ridiculous size mismatch.
The largest workload came when he guarded Kevin Love for a total of 31.1 possessions during the game Boston played against Cleveland on November 5.
While Smart was guarding Love during the third quarter, the five-time All-Star was left completely flabbergasted to the point where he was forced to take an undeniably bad pass.
Smart, however, tipped the ball and forced a turnover that Robert Williams was able to recover. The guard leads his team with 2.8 deflections per game so far this season. Last season, he recorded more total deflections (228) than all but just one player in the Eastern Conference.
But even more impressive was when the Celtics played the Bucks early in the season on October 30.
Smart matched up against the reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo for 16.9 possessions. The superstar scored just five points and managed only two attempts from the floor. That means Smart held the Milwaukee sensation to less than half of the field goal attempts Antetokounmpo has taken against all other defenders.
Antetokounmpo had three turnovers, was impacted by his defensive presence all game and he even ended up tumbling to the floor amidst a brief scrap with Smart.
Here is what the scrappy defender said after the game, which was a rematch of the Eastern Conference Semifinals (via NBC Sports):
“Every time I’m boxing him out, he’s trying to throw me out the way. It lets me know he’s frustrated, I’m getting to him, especially when he’s not getting to the ball, or he’s not getting to the rim, or he’s not getting the shots that he usually gets.”
Smart also forced New York Knicks star Julius Randle into a frenzy and picked his pocket on the perimeter, creating a transition opportunity for the Celtics.
Other notable matchups against bigs for Smart include his strong showing against Dario Saric. The Phoenix Suns starter took four shots (including a three-pointer) when guarded by Smart but missed all of them.
Another highlight was when the 6-foot-4 wing was able to record a block over 6-foot-11 big man Moritz Wagner in a game against the Washington Wizards.
Smart offers Boston a grittiness that Stevens can trust against and he has played a crucial role in their hot start and placement atop the standings in the East.