Boston Celtics: How Marcus Smart Can Fill Rajon Rondo’s Shoes

Rajon Rondo may very well have been one of the most important players the Boston Celtics had in their locker room the last five years, but things have changed dramatically since then.

Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen are no longer walking down the tunnel before and after games in Boston, and coach Doc Rivers is now enjoying success with the Los Angeles Clippers.

The Celtics had to begin a full rebuild, and that kind of situation is not something a star point guard wants to be apart of while he is in his prime.

Rondo was shipped to the Dallas Mavericks for a few players and draft picks, leaving Boston free to do anything they wish regarding their restructuring.

Their first order of business? Figuring out if Marcus Smart really is their starting point guard of the future.

Smart is the only player on the Celtics’ roster that has a definitive spot in the future rotation. Sure, Avery Bradley, Jeff Green, Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk are all capable NBA players, but none of them really have a lot of upside at this point like Smart does.

Whether the Celtics say they are keeping any of those players around along with the bench mob is irrelevant because in reality a rebuild means that players can be moved at any point in time to acquire more assets. If teams come knocking for anyone on that roster outside of Smart, chances are Boston will seriously consider offers.

What this team really needs, however, is a strong leader in the locker room who has the potential to be a real star both on and off the court.

Smart has the kind of personality that rubs off on others and makes him a prime candidate to be that player. Is he perfect at this point in his career?

No, he’s not, as he has definitely had his problems keeping his attitude fully in check in the past. Not that it should be a big concern though, as a lot of players need time to mature and fully develop both physically and mentally.

The good news for Smart is that he has a dominating and winning attitude that puts him in prime competitive position night in and night out. Smart is always willing to do whatever it takes to win a game, be it scoring, rebounding, assisting or playing defense. Smart can do a little bit of everything.

The one thing holding him back at this point is that he doesn’t do one thing extremely well.

When scoring the basketball, Smart has always been able to be a force getting to the rim because of his exceptional size. Smart is already one of the more physically imposing guards in the league, and that will not change as he is only going to get bigger and more athletic as he continues to work with NBA trainers and lifting coaches.

Smart is an explosive finisher capable of getting baskets around or through contact, something that is always a desirable quality in an NBA guard. Smart doesn’t understand of how to be afraid of the opposing defense, as he usually is able to find his way into the lane where he creates havoc.

For all of the times that he gets into the lane, however, Smart has a tendency to cough up the basketball and give the team an easy turnover to work with in the transition game.

Smart’s numbers may only indicate that he is averaging 1.4 turnovers per game, but that is also off of a very small sample size, as he is only averaging 18.7 minutes per game to this point.

Now his minutes will increase now that Rondo is gone, but when watching Smart, turning over the ball because of a sloppy handle is much more apparent as opposed to someone just looking at box scores night in and night out.

Even though Smart doesn’t have the tightest handle on the basketball when penetrating, his jump shot may be a worse fear at this point in his career. While Smart is averaging 75 percent on attempts from 10 to 16 feet from the basket, those shots only account for 5.4 percent of his total shot attempts, so once again that is too small of a sample size.

Where Smart’s shooting struggles are apparent are on his three point attempts. 64.9 percent of Smart’s shot attempts are from beyond the three-point line, but he only converts on 29.2 percent of those attempts, a very alarming statistic given how much Smart tries to rely upon that shot.

With his size, Smart could get much better looks inside the arc. Limiting his deep ball attempts will be something Smart will have to seriously work on moving forward.

There really isn’t a lot wrong with his actual shooting stroke, as he has decent form and a high-enough release. Smart just isn’t consistent from range yet and he will have to keep practicing in order to get better.

In his early days playing basketball, Smart was bigger than most of the guards on the court, so he could bully his way around whenever he wanted to, so he didn’t have to rely on his jump shot as much. That will not be the case in the NBA, so it is crucial he recognizes how good of a shot he really has before he takes it.

In terms of passing the ball, Smart has never truly been a magician in that area of the game. Sure, Smart can make plays here and there and make his teammates better because of it, but he certainly isn’t the same kind of passer that Rondo is, and he most likely never will be.

Just because he does not excel in passing right now doesn’t mean he never will. Smart is still a young player, and it takes time for point guards to recognize defensive schemes and build chemistry with this teammates.

He doesn’t even have a team around him that may be with him for the long haul, so its a little premature to fully judge his passing skills because he isn’t fully familiar with where his teammates generally are on the floor and where they like to get the ball at.

As for defense, Smart will continue to be an absolute hound on that end of the floor because of his size and competitive intensity. Smart is relentless when it comes to playing the passing lanes and going for steals, and may blossom into one of the best on-ball defenders in the game in time.

Right now though, Smart has struggled playing through screens, something that one would think wouldn’t be too much of a problem for him because of his physicality and toughness.

Recognizing screens and motion is another thing that will come with getting more and more playing time, so none of that should be too concerning. As long as Smart continues to give as much effort on defense as possible, he will grade out just fine in this area.

So after looking at all of that, is Smart ready to compete at a high level and lead this Celtics team to new heights? Maybe, maybe not. It’s still way too early to tell because of his age and the moving parts around him.

With that being said, that doesn’t mean that Smart can’t fill the void that Rondo left behind. As long as he can keep control over the ball and become smarter about the shots he takes, he can continue to have a positive impact on this team and begin to develop into a true leader on the court.

Being vocal and in control are the two most important things a point guard can be at the next level. Smart will continue to develop, and if he’s patient, he can begin to fill Rondo’s shoes a little bit.

Don’t expect another Rondo, Boston. Smart is a different kind of player because he may turn out to be a much better scorer than Rondo ever was. Just keep hoping that Smart becomes wiser with what he does with the ball, and everything else should fall into place.

*Statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.