Why Marcus Smart Can Replace Rajon Rondo for Boston Celtics

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterSeptember 1, 2014

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There are some rookies who just aren't built to handle the size and speed of the NBA right away. Developing through practice reps and studying from the bench over time is the best way for many young prospects to develop. 

Not Marcus Smart. 

If there was ever a rookie wired to excel and benefit from on-the-job training, it's Smart, who, unlike most high-profile rookies from the 2014 draft class, already has two years of experience handling a full-time role in college.

And it's relevant with regard to the Boston Celtics' immediate and future plans.

During a recent unaired episode of ESPN's Around the Horn, Boston-based writer Jackie MacMullan was recorded as saying that Rajon Rondo has told the Celtics he wants out, and that "it will happen," referring to a trade (via Jay King of masslive.com).

With the Celtics having taken Smart, another point guard, No. 6 overall in last June's draft, and the team still in the early stages of its rebuilding efforts, shopping Rondo does make sense. 

ORLANDO, FL - JULY 11: Marcus Smart #36 of the Boston Celtics brings the ball up the court against the Indiana Pacers during the Samsung NBA Summer League 2014 on July 11, 2014 at Amway Center in Orlando, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges
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Smart's presence should make it easier for general manager Danny Ainge to ultimately pull the trigger on a Rondo deal. And given the team's low expectations in 2014-15, they might as well let Smart start the trial-and-error process early.

Having measured in at just over 6'3", 227 pounds with a 6'9.25" wingspan, Smart should certainly be able to hold his own physically against NBA-caliber athletes. He drew strong reviews for his play at team USA's minicamp in Las Vegas against some of the top young talent across the league. 

“It just helped me more and more with my confidence and showed me that I can play in the NBA,” Smart told The Boston Globe's Baxter Holmes of his experience with USA. “A lot of guys have doubts if they can play here and that just kind of took all the doubt out of my mind, if I have any.”

Though he's bound to have his ups and downs over his first few years, Smart immediately brings a sense of toughness to the table, which exists even on off days. That has to be an attractive quality for a team looking to establish a new identity. 

Even at his worst, he's still an animal defensively, between the pressure he provides and his instincts off the ball. Smart finished top three in steals in the country in back-to-back seasons as a freshman and sophomore. From baseline to baseline, he's a disruption capable of single-handedly rattling an opposing backcourt.

It's what should ultimately allow him to play right away despite his current weaknesses as a decision-maker. 

TARRYTOWN, NY - AUGUST 3:  Marcus Smart #36 of the Boston Celtics poses for a portrait during the 2014 NBA rookie photo shoot on August 3, 2014 at the Madison Square Garden Training Facility in Tarrytown, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledge
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Scouts have criticized his questionable decision-making—figuring out what routes to take for offense versus which ones to avoid. Shot selection was a legitimate problem for him at Oklahoma State, and you can argue it contributed heavily to his poor shooting percentages, as CollegeBasketTalk's Rob Dauster did back in February.

However, these weaknesses aren't necessarily permanent. He'll probably struggle with them early on, but long term, which is how the Celtics should be thinking, he's got plenty of room to improve, given his terrific passing instincts and capable shot-making skills. 

Moving from his first year in college to his second, Smart illustrated his ability to learn and adapt by lowering his turnover rate from 3.4 a game to 2.6—even though his usage rate would skyrocket to 29.2 percent.

And though anyone with eyes and an opinion will tell you that Smart can't shoot, he did sink 49 three-pointers as a sophomore and 38 as a freshman. He even made 45.7 percent of his open spot-up attempts.

Unfortunately, he ended up taking more contested ones (made 20.4 percent of contested spot-ups, per Matt Kamalsky of DraftExpress), which, again, also points to his shaky shot selection. Still, the fact that he's proven capable of converting the open shots gives us reason to believe there's shooting potential there.

We haven't seen the consistency yet, but we're also not exactly talking about a broken jumper. It just needs time and work. 

John Raoux/Associated Press

Looking at his offensive strengths, you have to admire his attack game, which is highlighted by his ability to play through contact (shot 57.3 percent at the rim, per DraftExpress) and 9.9 free-throw attempts per 40 minutes last season. 

And though not your traditional pass-first facilitator like Rondo, he still has the tools and intangibles to pose as a viable setup man for teammates. Smart averaged 4.8 assists a game as Oklahoma State's do-it-all lead guard in 2013-14. 

During his rookie season, Smart should give the Celtics a little bit of playmaking, a little bit of scoring and plenty of defensive intensity. As a veteran, there's a strong chance he can give them all three on a nightly basis. 

Once he puts it all together, we could be looking at one of the more dangerous two-way guards in the Eastern Conference. I wouldn't be too shaken up if I were a Celtics fan and the team decided to move Rondo. Smart should be qualified to eventually replace him as the franchise cornerstone at the point. 


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