When Gordon Hayward went down with an injury during the first game of the season, many thought that the season was over for the Boston Celtics. Seven games later, the Celtics are hot on a 5-game win streak and proving everyone wrong.
Marcus Smart, the longest tenured player on the team at just 23-years-old, could be the reason why. This season, despite missing two games due to an ankle injury, Smart has proven to play a key role in the team’s success.
Smart is by no means an all-star, but he possesses the qualities that make him an ideal sixth man: heart and hustle. Heart and hustle don’t necessarily win championships, but they’re exactly what the team needs coming off the loss of Gordon Hayward.
“I think that his mind-set, his competitive spirit, his toughness, his will, all of those things make teams better,” Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said. “I think it’s a perfect complement to anybody and everybody to play with. And there’s a reason why his teammates speak so glowingly about him. We need Marcus. Marcus is an important part of this team.”
Smart’s willingness to put the team before himself and his infectious work ethic make him a quintessential teammate, or as Al Horford said, the “soul” of the team.
Playing alongside Celtics’ explosive offensive threats Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, and Jayson Tatum, Smart is able to focus on the parts of the game that lend to his talents: hard nose defense, distributing on offense, and fighting for loose balls. Working with the second unit, he is able to lend his energy and experience to the younger players off the bench.
Smart is currently averaging 4.8 rebounds, 4.4 assists, and 11.4 points per game, but his stats are not an accurate depiction of his contributions to the team. Smart’s role as the tone-setter and popularity amongst his teammates make him a true leader.
“He was one of the guys doing things you’ll always appreciate,” said Terry Rozier. “He makes everyone around him play as hard as he does.”
The 2016-17 season was successful for Smart, but this season looks as if it’s shaping up to be his breakout year.