Jeremiah Short, Feature Columnist
The Boston Celtics have decided to end the Rajon Rondo era and start the Marcus Smart era. While it’s a bit premature, it’s the right move for an organization in the midst of a rebuilding project.
Nearly a week ago, the Celtics traded away Rajon Rondo, who was the last remnant of the “Big 3” era. The move didn’t come as a surprise-as it was inevitable following their selection of Marcus Smart, a point guard, with the 6th pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.
The immediate question: Is Smart ready to take over?
The answer: yes and no.
Smart isn’t quite ready to handle everything that comes with being a point guard in the NBA. His shot selection is still suspect. His jumper is weak. And he’s only been playing the position for two years. All reasons to be hesitant on turning the reigns of an entire organization over to the passionate, first-year player.
Smart’s intangibles make up for his lack of polish, though. He’s a tremendous leader and has overcome a rough background to become a top pick in the NBA Draft. In addition to his intangibles, he’s a terrific defensive player with the length(6’9.25 wingspan) and size(6’3, 227) to guard three positions: point guard, shooting guard and small forward.
“Some of that stuff depends on the personality, how you play, what your expectations of that person are,” said Brad Stevens, the Celtics head coach. “You can be a floor leader and not have the ball all the time. He has the disposition to be a leader. He has a lot of growth that has to occur because he’s 20-years-old. But one thing we know right out of the gate is that we have a lot of versatility defensively with that lineup.”
The other interesting aspect of the Celtics making Smart their franchise player and jettisoning Rondo is that it would have been the right organizational decision even if they were both 20-year olds.
Smart is more versatile: Rondo is a great defender and has the ability to guard two positions—point and shooting guard. But offensively, he can only play point guard.
Smart is the exact opposite. He can guard the three positions I mentioned earlier in the column. And eventually as he develops, he’ll be able to man those positions offensively, as well.
Smart is less mercurial: Smart’s incident with the Texas Tech fan last year is well-documented. I actually wrote a column in response to it. He hasn’t garnered a reputation as a malcontent or ticking time bomb, though. If the shoving incident is taken into context (His mother was being rushed to the hospital before the game.), I think it would be viewed more sympathetically, instead of with derision.
Rondo in retrospect has the reputation as a mercurial, volatile player who the Celtics were hesitant to give a big contract to because of those issues. I don’t make that statement to cast aspersions on Rondo. Franchise player’s normally have issues. Ego. Entourages. Off-the-court drama. But they have to at least be manageable. Rondo isn’t manageable.
Smart fits the franchise player model: Before the 2013-2014 NBA season, I introduced an equation to evaluate franchise players. I broke them down into three types: the dominant big man, the swingman and the playmaking point guard.
Smart fits the playmaking point guard model. Yes, he’s still transitioning and learning the position. But as he gains experience, I think he will resemble a more powerful, physical John Wall type of player with better defensive skills.
With the right pieces around him, Smart could lead the Celtics back to prominence sooner rather than later. The Celtics have accumulated the draft picks to bring in some of those pieces to put around him.
2015 NBA Draft: two 1st-round picks, three 2nd-round picks.
2016 NBA Draft: two 1st-round picks, four 2nd-round picks.
2017 NBA Draft: one 1st-round picks, one 2nd-round picks.
For a rebuilding project that I view as a three-year process, those draft choices will be valuable assets. The 2015 Draft is loaded, too. Jahlil Okafor, Karl-Anthony Towns, Stanley Johnson and Emmanuel Mudiay will likely be available. Assuming the Celtics miss the playoffs, they would be in position to take at least one of those talents.
It’s not like the Celtics don’t have pieces already in place, though. Kelly Olynyk had a solid rookie season. Jared Sullinger is a solid big. Evan Turner is flashing some of the potential that he showed at Ohio State. And James Young, my number-one rated shooting guard in the 2014 Draft, could be an excellent wingman to Smart.
“The confidence that [the organization] has in these young players, including myself, is tremendous,” Smart said. “It was a big move from the guys upstairs and just showed how they believed in these young guys and this young team that they have.
The team-first attitude exhibited in this quote is exactly why the Celtics future is bright with Smart leading the way.
Catch me on the “SportsKrib” on Wednesday’s 8-9 Central and Thursday’s 8-10 Central. Follow me on social media @DaRealJShort or check out my facebook page JShortJournalist or my Google Plus page J.Short- Journalist.