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Celtics' Marcus Smart Talks DPOY Race, Says Rudy Gobert 'Can't Guard All 5 Spots'

Tim Daniels@@TimDanielsBRFeatured Columnist IVMarch 31, 2022

AP Photo/David Zalubowski

Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart said his ability to guard any position on the floor should give him the edge over Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert in the NBA Defensive Player of the Year race.

Smart discussed his DPOY candidacy with ESPN's Tim Bontemps in an interview released Thursday with only a couple of weeks left in the 2021-22 regular season.

"Let's think about it," he said. "As a guard, especially on the team that switches a lot, especially on the No. 1 defensive team, you are worried about every single player. And here's the thing: When you see Defensive Player of the Year, that means he can guard all five spots.

"Nothing against Rudy, but Rudy can't guard all five spots. I can guard all five spots and I have been doing it. I've done it very well."

Smart and Gobert are joined by the Milwaukee Bucks' Giannis Antetokounmpo, Golden State Warriors' Draymond Green and Phoenix Suns' Mikal Bridges among the top contenders for the award.

If the Celtics star is going to win it, he'll have to overcome numbers that favor his taller counterparts.

Smart ranks 10th in defensive rating and is tied for 42nd in FiveThirtyEight's defensive RAPTOR metric. Gobert sits first in both categories.

The eye test could work to his advantage, though. Bill Simmons of The Ringer, a longtime Celtics fan, raved about the 28-year-old Oklahoma State product's recent defensive performances Wednesday night:

Bill Simmons @BillSimmons

Smart’s defense is at the craziest level possible right now. I still think GP is the best defensive guard I’ve ever seen, but the stuff Smart has been doing these past six weeks is making me rethink that. Need to see it in person.

It's naturally easier for post players to accumulate defensive numbers. Gobert, a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, is averaging 11.0 defensive rebounds, 2.2 blocks and 0.7 steals this season. His ability to protect the paint is crucial to Utah's success.

Gobert is also 7'1'' with a 7'9'' wingspan. Smart is 6'3'' with a 6'9'' wingspan. That's an extra foot of reach the Jazz center has to alter shots.

"As a big, you can impact multiple players at a time. As a guard, it's harder to do that," Gobert told ESPN.

Smart, who's ranks fifth in the NBA with 1.7 steals per game, disagreed with the notion the DPOY honor should lean toward rim protectors.

"I mean, if we're looking at just simple impact, [perimeter players] definitely should be in any kind of conversation when it comes to that award," he said.

Smart has five games left to continue making his case, starting Friday night against the Indiana Pacers.

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