When Rajon Rondo went down with his mysterious left hand injury a couple weeks ago, Celtics fans were overcome with disappointment, and rightfully so. As it stands right now, Rondo is the lone all-star on this young squad and one of the best facilitators in the league.
The silver lining in Rondo’s injury, however, is the opportunity to speed up the development of his rookie replacement, Marcus Smart. Smart was less than impressive offensively in Boston’s preseason opener a couple nights ago (0-8 from the field) but his defensive IQ and ball pressure were everything you could ask for. He came up with three steals and was harassing Philadelphia’s ball handlers all night, displaying his quick feet and strength to fight through screens. Coach Stevens agrees that Smart is wise beyond his years at the defensive end of the floor.
“I’ve coached a lot of really bright guys at a lot of different ages,” Stevens said. “Very, very, very, very few at 20 years old can see the game and react to the game defensively like (Smart). Now he has the ability to react athletically, too. He can really move. He’s very physical. He’s got a good savvy for the game.”
Of course the Celtics already have one of the premier defenders in the NBA at the two guard in Avery Bradley, a guy who has drawn comparisons to the great Gary Payton. The question now becomes, with Smart and Bradley starting at the guard positions, do the Celtics have the best defensive backcourt in basketball? I think yes. I’m not saying it will make them a better team because there are things that Rondo can do with the ball that Smart can only dream of at this point in his career, but seeing Marcus and Avery giving opposing ball-handlers nightmares will certainly make for some entertaining basketball and should help keep the Celtics in a lot of games.
Obviously right now there are questions about Smart’s offense, but I’ll try not to overreact to a guy missing a few shots in his first preseason game.
Here’s a video of Smart’s impressive defense against Philly.