Celtics

Celtics’ Marcus Smart says he’s a great shooter ‘when I take great shots’

"He's a much improved shooter, but he's also an outstanding playmaker."

Marcus Smart says he's a great shooter "when I take great shots." AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart hasn’t always been a competent shooter.

In fact, in his second and third seasons, Smart was one of the league’s worst from long range — a sub-30 percent shooter who still found occasion to fire up more than four attempts per game.

In recent years, those numbers have risen. Smart is far from Stephen Curry, but he makes a reasonable percentage of his triples despite what certain segments of Celtics fans might think — last year, he hit 34.7 percent of his 6.6 attempts per game.

Still, the Celtics have other players who are more efficient — both from deep and elsewhere. So how will the team balance Smart’s enthusiasm and improvement as a shooter while ensuring Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown get enough touches?

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According to Brad Stevens, those conversations are ongoing, but they take on extra importance with Kemba Walker out until early January at the earliest.

“We have specific goals for each of our guys and Marcus in particular,” Stevens told reporters via Zoom on Monday. “He’s got to continue to build off on the threat he is and at the same time, we need him to organize us and help run us, especially while Kemba is out. There’s even more of a responsibility to get us organized as a team. Guys are going to have nights when they make shots, don’t make shots and if they are wide open, inside-out shots, you have to shoot those.

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“At the same time, I think he can get everybody where they need to be. He’s a much improved shooter but he’s also an outstanding playmaker. I’ve told him we’ve talked a lot about increasing the efficiency of our team and his ability to make plays for others is a big part of that, putting guys in the right spots to soar with their strengths.”

Shortly after Stevens spoke, Smart was asked why he sees shot selection as an important focus. Smart didn’t seem to entirely appreciate the question.

“Because when I take great shots, I’m a great shooter,” he said shortly.

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Those segments of Celtics fans who don’t appreciate Smart’s trigger-happy approach might not agree, but Smart has a point. The interesting question is exactly which shots are great for Smart.

Most analysts agree that corner 3-pointers are the most efficient shot in basketball — the corners are slightly shorter than shots from above the break. But Smart isn’t particularly strong from either corner — per NBA.com’s stats page, he made just 33.3 percent of his 63 total attempts from the right and left sides.

So where is Smart great? On an admittedly small sample size, he showed a lot of promise shooting triples off the dribble. He was 26-for-60 on pull-up 3-pointers (43.3 percent) and 13-for-31 on step-back triples (41.9 percent).

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Many Celtics fans will say Smart is good at tough shots and that he struggles to make easy ones. The numbers, it seems, back that up.

Smart has no intention of being shy shooting off the catch.

“If I’m open, I’m definitely shooting the ball,” Smart said. “My teammates, the coaches staff, definitely told me catch and shoot. If you’re open, shoot it.”

Stevens noted that the Celtics just want all their players — Smart included — to be themselves without stifling their ambitions to improve.

“Just like with your kids, when you’re young, you want to balance the idea of, ‘Hey, this is what you can do to add value to winning, but I don’t want to stop you from working toward your dreams of being as good as you can be,’” Stevens said. “So it’s a fine line. It takes a lot of work. It takes a lot of reflection. It takes the experience of playing at this level, competing with other teammates, learning the strengths of your teammates before — guys will get it at different ages and stages. But certainly it takes time for everyone.”

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