Blueprint for Marcus Smart to Become Boston Celtics’ Next Great Point Guard

And just like that, the Boston Celtics have a new franchise point guard.

Or at least that’s the hope with Marcus Smart after ESPN.com reported that management shipped off Rajon Rondo in a trade to the Dallas Mavericks.

You’d like to imagine that when general manager Danny Ainge drafted Smart with the No. 6 pick in 2014, he did so knowing that Rondo likely wouldn’t be back, given his status as an impending free agent and the team’s current rebuilding efforts.

Unfortunately, Smart has already missed 12 games with an ankle injury and a couple more as of late with Achilles pain. Quite frankly, he didn’t have the greatest summer league or preseason, where he shot below 32 percent from the floor in both settings.

But the Oklahoma State product flashed a few can’t-miss qualities that fueled his strong NBA appeal, along with some weaknesses that would need to be ironed out over time.

At 220 pounds, Smart isn‘t your traditional point guard. He’s built more like a diesel NFL running back than a ball-handler.

He played mostly the 2 in high school, while he wore just about every possible hat for the Cowboys during two years in college.

Smart has terrific passing instincts, which is ultimately what drives his potential as a facilitator.

I wouldn’t put too much stock into Smart’s so-so 4.8 assists per game as a sophomore, given how much he was relied on to score.

In the limited action we’ve seen him in since being drafted, he’s been more than willing to put his teammates first. Smart isn‘t the most elusive off the dribble, but he sees the floor extremely well, while his ability to put pressure on the defense as a driver leads to kick-outs for shooters and drop-offs for finishers.

However, one of the areas in which Smart’s track record and projection are cloudy is executing pick-and-rolls.

According to Matt Kamalsky of DraftExpress, only 21.2 percent of his possessions at Oklahoma State were used on pick-and-rolls, which ranked “well below average” among point guard prospects. He only knocked down 36 percent of his shots dribbling over those screens.

Of course, Smart’s teammates will need a proficient pick-and-roll setup man, but for his own sake, the pick-and-roll is arguably the most ideal playmaking opportunity for a point guard in the half court.

Based on what we’ve seen so far, it’s an opportunity he’s going to have to learn how to capitalize on—Smart’s shot selection in terms of creativity is currently lacking.

Of Smart’s 60 shots in preseason, 44 of them were three-pointers. And that’s with shooting as arguably the biggest hole in his game. He hasn’t quite figured out yet just how to go about seeking quality scoring chances, and as a result, he’s been forced into taking too many low-percentage shots out of his range.

In 10 regular-season games, his shot selection has been a little better, but he’s still taken 37 threes to 20 two-pointers.

The sample size is tiny, but of the 19 shots he’s made so far, only three have been jumpers off the dribble outside 10 feet.

Ironically, Rondo might be one of the only point guards in history to successfully get away with not having a pull-up in the arsenal. But Smart isn‘t Rondo. This is a shot he’s going to need, whether it’s over ball screens out of pick-and-rolls or just as a weapon to use in space, given the heavy rim protection that exists at the NBA level.

Last year, Smart knocked down just 28.4 percent of his jumpers in the half court, per Kamalsky.

The good news is that he’s proven himself capable as a shooter. Smart has made 10 threes in 10 games so far, and he hit 49 total a year ago.

Though streaky, he’s got the ability to catch fire, as he recently did against the Washington Wizards on December 8, when he knocked down four triples, with three of them in the fourth quarter and overtime.

The next step is becoming more consistent, which these extra minutes and reps should ultimately help him achieve.

If there’s one thing we don’t have to worry about with Smart, it’s confidence. He touched on his shooting stroke earlier this summer when speaking with Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald:

I’m a good shooter. Even though the percentages say different, that’s because I took a lot of bad shots in college. I’m not worried about that. You can see that there’s nothing wrong with my shot mechanically. It’s all about staying balanced, and it’s repetition. I’ve worked every day on it. My shot isn’t falling . . . and my shot is going to fall.

At this point, Smart’s core strength revolves around his NBA-ready defense, and it’s probably going to carry him through the offensive growing pains early on. Smart is tenacious on the ball, where his length, strength and lateral quickness can overwhelm on the perimeter.

His defensive IQ shows up off the ball, where his hands are active in passing and driving lanes.

If there’s an NBA point guard out there for Smart to try and emulate, it might be the Toronto Raptors‘ Kyle Lowryanother physical bulldog in the backcourt whose floor game and jumper have both steadily improved.

Looking ahead, Smart should be locked into regular minutes for the Celtics, assuming coach Brad Stevens won’t waste too much time on newly acquired veteran Jameer Nelson.

Between Smart’s defensive presence and offensive feel for the game, you’d like to think he’ll more than hold his own once he builds some rhythm following his time on the injury shelf.

But this is about Smart’s long-term outlook as a potential franchise lead guard for the Celtics.

From a glass-half-full perspective, he excels in areas of the game you can’t teach, from his physical tools and vision to his killer instinct and energy, while he’s shown promise in other places where there’s plenty of room for growth.

He also couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity than the one he has in Boston, where there’s an open path to the starting lineup and no real immediate expectations to win.

However, he’ll still have some major adjustments to make if he plans on convincing fans and management he’s the point guard to build with.

Either way, the Marcus Smart era has officially begun in Boston, and hopefully it’s one that will last as the franchise takes its next few steps in restoring its NBA credibility.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics courtesy of NBA.com and RealGM.

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Why Kyle Lowry is the NBA’s most underrated point guard

by Josh Naso / @silverfox8008  Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry wasn’t a lottery pick (24th overall in 2006). He wasn’t a Rookie of the Year candidate, and he’s never…..
The post Kyle Lowry Is The Most Underrated Point Guard (And Maybe Player) In The NBA appeared first on The Sports Fan Journal.

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UNC Basketball: Playing Marcus Paige at Point Guard Holding the Tar Heels Back

Marcus Paige proved last year that when he’s getting into space, shooting in rhythm and making things happen, he’s one of the best players in the nation. But so far this season, when he’s had to create on his own, he’s been just like any other player on the court.

UNC wants a balance on offense, but that shouldn’t be at the expense of Paige’s ability to excel.

During the second half of North Carolina’s 84-70 loss at top-ranked Kentucky on Saturday, Paige showed some flashes of that unstoppable post-halftime player from a year ago. He had 12 of his 14 points in the final 20 minutes, hitting four of five three-pointers, compared to taking only four shots (and making just one) in the first half.

The main difference? Paige spent much of the first half at the point as the only true guard in UNC’s starting lineup. After halftime, though, backups Nate Britt and Joel Berry saw far more time, sharing the point, which let Paige slide into the 2 and freed him up to act more and direct less.

With a more impressive frontcourt than a year ago, UNC has better offensive options than just having Paige do it all, and as a result, he’s averaging 14 points per game this season, compared to 17.5 last year. But his accuracy is way off, from 44 percent to 36.5.

The junior is trying to work with this better scoring depth, which might explain why he’s been less inclined to drive to the basket and instead sticks to the perimeter. But doing that while also having to control the point is taking away Paige’s best attribute: being able to find the open look.

Paige had six assists Saturday, tying a season high, and he’s averaging 3.7 assists per game. He’s not going to stop trying to create for others, especially with the likes of Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson showing the ability to perform better offensively. But if that’s too much of his responsibility, to worry about getting the rest of the team involved, then Paige is going to sacrifice his own production, and that’s not a recipe for victory for the Tar Heels.

Britt (17) and Berry (11) played a combined 28 minutes against Kentucky, a slight increase from their season averages of 14.9 and 9.9 minutes per game, respectively. Though they made just two out of nine shots when they were on the court (and Paige was also in the game), the scoring opportunities for Paige were far better. He came off screens and had the open look, nailing four straight threes at one point.

“Roy Williams has consistently said the Joel Berry II who has played the first month of the season isn’t the real Berry,” wrote Adam Lucas of GoHeels.com. “The freshman showed some flashes on Saturday afternoon against Carolina’s toughest opponent of the season. Berry gave the Tar Heels some solid second-half minutes and didn’t back down from the physical Wildcats.”

There needs to be more of that. A lot more. Otherwise, Paige will be forced to stick with the approach he’s been trying to take this season, which isn’t a smart move for the long run.

When Paige didn’t have a point to work with Saturday, pushing him back into that role, he either deferred to the bigs or tried to force things in crowded areas. UNC’s frontcourt players—minus Johnson, who was very aggressive—played very soft against Kentucky, so that wasn’t a viable option, and when Paige pushed the ball into traffic, he’d lose it or put up a bad shot.

It should be noted that what UNC had to deal with inside was an anomaly, as few teams will be as talented in the frontcourt as Kentucky is. But in the Tar Heels’ other losses this season, against Butler and at home to Iowa, they had a distinct size advantage inside, yet didn’t capitalize.

It’s not that Paige isn’t capable of taking over games. He’s shown he can do that numerous times, including a few instances in 2014-15. He sparked a 32-11 run to end the first half of a solid win over UCLA in the Bahamas with his three-point shooting, while in wins over Davidson, Florida and East Carolina, it was his ability to distribute that paced the offense.

He can do it all, yes, but does that mean he should? Instead, Paige should be free to be that go-to player in just one role, rather than the jack-of-all-trades. And that one role should be as the outside scoring threat, seeing as no other Tar Heel has shown an ability to hit the three consistently this year.

There are too many weapons on this year’s Tar Heels team for Paige to be the only one making things happen. Those other standouts need to help make things happen for Paige as much as he does for them. Otherwise, UNC will have a lot more games like Saturday.

 

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

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Mario Chalmers Proving His Best Role for Miami Heat Is as No. 1 Point Guard

NBA players are human beings and, as such, they have feelings and egos and hangups much like the shorter people who watch them on television every night.

For a handful of players, one of these hangups seems to be the starter/sixth-man distinction. While, prima facie, there wouldn’t seem to be much difference between coming off the bench and being out on the floor for the opening tip—so long as the basic role, minutes and scoring opportunities don’t change much—the change is meaningful for some guys.

Many players simply want the cred that comes with being a starter. Take it from USA Today’s Sam Amick. According to the writer, there’s a laundry list of players who have made it plain that they’re dissatisfied coming off the pine:

Just ask the Oklahoma City Thunder, who lost James Harden two years ago, in part, because he had no interest in following in Ginobili’s footsteps and now have a similar quandary with young guard Reggie Jackson leading into his free agency next summer.

Or the Phoenix Suns, who have point guard Isaiah Thomas making $28 million over the next four years to play that role yet spending his days dreaming of being a starter. 

Amick added that the Cleveland Cavaliers have a similar problem with Dion Waiters, as do the Golden State Warriors with veteran Andre Iguodala.

And the Miami Heat, though the player in question hasn’t made a peep about it, may have the same issue with Mario Chalmers.

While the 28-year-old has been silent on the question of his role in Miami, so far in 2014-15, it’s clear he’s performing much better in the starting lineup than he is coming off the bench. According to Basketball-Reference.com, the splits are severe.

In 14 games as a reserve, Chalmers is averaging 10.6 points, 3.2 assists and 2.1 rebounds in 27.5 minutes a night, while posting a 54.4 true shooting percentage. These numbers are in line with his career averages.

But in eight games as a starter, which came while Dwyane Wade was missing time with a strained hamstring, Chalmers blew his averages out of the water. He averaged 17.4 points, 6.5 assists and 3.1 rebounds over 34.6 minutes a night with a stellar true shooting percentage of 61.9.

Granted, this is a small sample size, but this trend has held over his career. Chalmers plays very well when he starts, and is sub-average as a sub.

According to Basketball-Reference.com, across his seven seasons, Chalmers has averaged 6.5 points on a 49.4 true shooting percentage, 2.8 assists and 1.8 rebounds as a reserve in 22.1 minutes a night.

As a starter, those figures balloon to 9.6 points with a 57.2 true shooting percentage, 4.2 assists and 2.6 rebounds in 29.3 minutes a night.

It’s not just the top-line figures either that underscore Chalmers being successful as a starter and not being successful in other roles. By almost every meaningful measure, he’s been better when he plays the opening seconds.

He shoots seven percentage points better from three points, has higher block and steal rates and is even a notch better as a free-throw shooter.

With all this evidence, it’s unclear why Erik Spoelstra insists on bringing Chalmers off the bench and giving starters’ minutes to Norris Cole, especially given the latter’s underwhelming numbers.

Cole, in his fourth professional season, is having a career-best year by measure of Basketball-Reference.com’s win shares. And he’s still, by this metric, performing at 36 percent the level of the average point guard.

And Chalmers, though he said nothing publicly, was stung by his offseason demotion. According to the Miami Herald’s Barry Jackson, Dwyane Wade said his teammate was dispirited by the news he lost his spot in the lineup:

Mario Chalmers thinks he’s the best player on the court no matter who’s on the floor and he’s been a starter pretty much his whole life, so you were a little worried [how he would react to losing his job]…His spirits were down a bit.

But we sat down and had a great conversation about his role at this moment. Nothing is set is stone. Whatever role you have, you have to play to the best of your ability. No reason to whine or cry about it. He’s done a great job for us.

While there may not be any reason to cry over the demotion, players with greater profiles than Chalmers have been frustrated by a move down in the pecking order.

“Guys are wired like that from a young age,” Andre Iguodala told Amick in response to his own move to the bench. “I mean I’ve been playing basketball since I was five, and you’re just so used to just starting the game. Even when you’re young, it’s ‘Starters vs. Scrubs.’ That was kind of the (mentality).”

For Chalmers, it’s not merely a matter of perception, but rather it’s a matter of reality. The Heat would do well to recognize it.

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Ohio St. handles High Point

Kam Williams scored a career-high 23 points.

      
 

 

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Williams leads No. 12 Ohio State past High Point (Yahoo Sports)

Ohio State's Amir Williams, right, posts up against High Point's John Brown during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2014, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Kam Williams has always been a scorer. From the crib to college he’s never been afraid to shoot and has never had trouble making shots.


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5 Reasons Why Russell Westbrook Is a Top-3 NBA Point Guard

For a team to have success in today’s NBA, it is imperative to have a good point guard. The point guard is the facilitator, the general, the leader and the quarterback.

In that regard, the Oklahoma City Thunder are set with Russell Westbrook in command.

There was once a time when Westbrook was accused of holding the Thunder back from a championship. But hopefully those accusations were vanquished in the 2013 postseason when the Westbrook-less Thunder lost their Western Conference semifinals series with the Memphis Grizzles in five games.

It proved that Westbrook is not a hindrance to the Thunder, but he is the motor that makes them go.

With the Thunder-are-better-without-Westbrook myth put to rest, we can finally give Westbrook credit for being the top-three NBA point guard that he is. And while labeling an athlete as a top-three player in his or her position is sure to spark disagreement and debate, I can give five reasons why Westbrook is deserving of the label.

Westbrook has an explosive style of play and a volatile demeanor to go with it. He is not a traditional point guard because he has a score-first mentality, and that’s perfectly fine. Being an elite point guard does not mean you have to look to pass first like the Tony Parkers, Chris Pauls or Rajon Randos of the NBA. If those players had the physical abilities that Westbrook has, they would be looking to score first as well.

With that in mind, here are five reasons why Westbrook is a top-three NBA point guard.

Begin Slideshow

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Cleveland Cavaliers Can Thrive with Kyrie Irving as Scoring Point Guard

The Cleveland Cavaliers extended their winning streak to five games with a 90-87 victory over the struggling New York Knicks on Thursday night, and they did it with a little help from a 22-year-old point guard doing what he does best.

Kyrie Irving led all scorers with a season-high 37 points that would seemingly justify his lowly two assists. With LeBron James tallying 12 assists along with his 19 points against the Knicks, Irving could afford to look for his own shot a bit more aggressively. And James was happy to comply.

So far, Irving’s shoot-first exploits haven’t been such a bad thing for the Cavaliers. They’re now 6-1 when Irving scores at least 23 points this season.

Coming off a 28-point outing in a 111-108 win against the Milwaukee Bucks, it appears the Duke product may be finding his groove at a time when Cleveland’s offense is still searching for an identity. After attempting 15 shots against the Bucks, Irving insisted he was letting the game come to him and finding a comfort zone within the team’s system under new head coach David Blatt. 

“Whether that’s taking no shots, or taking as many shots as I took tonight, whatever is needed to win, I’m willing to do,” he told reporters after Tuesday’s game. “I trust my teammates 100 percent, and whatever’s needed game to game I’m going to do.”

Irving may not be looking to take games over, but nor is he shy. 

“He’s very patient and I think he has a lot of confidence, not only in himself, but there are guys around him that can help him, so he doesn’t have to press,” James added of Irving. “And that’s very key.”

One of the more encouraging signs has been the way in which Irving is pursuing his offense. Over his last two games, he’s made a combined 18-of-21 free-throw attempts. While his three-point game has been lethal as ever this season (with a success rate over 42 percent), his aggressiveness and ability to get to the basket have been vital.

The fourth-year veteran’s proactive approach has been particularly timely in light of Kevin Love’s uneven output at the power-forward spot. Though Love scored a combined 55 points in the two game’s prior to Thursday night’s action, he tallied just 11 points against New York—already the seventh time this season he’s tallied no more than 14 points.

Love told reporters last month after scoring just 10 points against the San Antonio Spurs that it takes time to settle into his new role:

It’s come to a point where I’m just trying to find myself in this offense. It’s almost related to when you come into the league. Usually the guys that dominate the ball so much tend to learn a lot quicker than a guy like myself, a big man. So I’m just trying to find different spots in the offense.

I’ll just say we’re 10 games in, we’re looking at different stuff. I need to find myself. I think everybody knew coming in that we’d have to sacrifice, but at some point we’re going to need some low-post scoring and some outside shooting.

The former Minnesota Timberwolves star has shown signs of rhythm, but it may be some time before he carries a heavy scoring load on a nightly basis.

Until then, Irving should be able to pick up some of the slack—especially with James handling point-forward duties so effortlessly. For the season, Irving is averaging a career-low 4.7 assists per game. It’s a trend that’s spurred some criticism, particularly amidst something of a drought in early November.

But it remains to be seen whether Irving really needs to create for others when James has taken so quickly to handling the ball and making plays for his new teammates.

Through 17 appearances, the four-time MVP is averaging 7.6 assists per contest. He’s tallied double-figure dimes in four of his last six outings, often doing so without an appreciable impact on his scoring (e.g. dropping 29 points and 11 assists in a 106-74 win over the Orlando Magic).

Irving may have the point-guard body, but he has more of a shooting guard’s disposition. James is without question the better floor general to initiate offense. He has the size to see over defenders and the IQ to make good decisions. Cavs fans will remember that he tallied as many as 8.6 assists per contest back in 2009-10.

It’s too soon to determine whether Cleveland has figured out the right balance on the offensive end. Putting up 90 points against the Knicks isn’t exactly a statement, not when Carmelo Anthony had an opportunity to tie the game with a three-pointer at the buzzer.

Nor should we be 100 percent satisfied with the player Irving has become. He isn’t, either. The scoring may be instinctive at this point, but his defense remains a work in progress, as Irving recently told reporters:

It’s just all about effort. My first three years, it was just making excuses of offensive burden and all this other stuff. And at the end of the day, I just have to do it for the greater good of our team.

In order for our team to win, I have to be that kind of guy on the defensive end. You can only talk about it so long. At one point it just has to be done.

The two-way focus may be indicative of some much-needed maturation. Even if Irving isn’t this team’s distributor-in-chief, he realizes he can impact the game in other ways:

I just try to stay in front of the ball as much as possible so it’s not as much pressure for other guys to help me. I’d rather help other guys and be in position to help and stop my guy instead of the other way around and always being ‘that guy’ on film.

I was on film a lot the last three years [laughing]. You get tired of it after a while, so you want to be that guy that your teammates trust on a day-in, day-out basis.

That trust may still be evolving, but the Cavaliers already have plenty of faith in Irving’s scoring credentials.

Love will come along. James will do it all. Irving just needs to keep doing what comes most naturally.

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Old school point guard is Arizona’s X-Factor

In an era of high-flying, score-first point guards, McConnell is far from the norm.

      
 

 

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Old school point guard T.J. McConnell is Arizona’s X-Factor

In an era of high-flying, score-first point guards, McConnell is far from the norm.

      
 

 

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