Marcus Smart is coming off a campaign where he became the first guard since Gary Payton in 1995-96 to win NBA Defensive Player of the Year. Offensively, he finally got to spend a season as the Celtics' starting point guard.
When I asked him about the latter's impact on what he focused on during his offseason workouts, he expressed the following.
“Seeing the court even better, working on my shot selections, my shots that I’m gonna be taking and making, and my ball-handling and reads when I’m coming off screens and getting guys open.”
Last season, adjusting to a new head coach and a staff that also had to figure out how to put the team in the best possible positions to succeed, and a litany of injuries and Covid-19 related absences played significant roles in Boston finding itself in 11th in the East in January.
As impressive as it was for the Celtics to dig out of the hole, finishing the regular season second in the East, then representing the conference in the NBA Finals, they did so in part by shortening the rotation, which caught up with them in the playoffs.
While there's the added challenge of Ime Udoka getting suspended for the 2022-23 season for violations of team policies and Joe Mazzulla going from sitting behind the bench to, at 34, becoming the NBA's youngest active head coach, it's paramount they get off to a better start to the 2022-23 season.
To that end, Smart stated, “everybody understands the severity of what’s happening for us right now; this can go one of two ways for us, and we’ve seen how it went if we don’t step up and put our foot down and correct the things we need to do and stay on top of things early."
He added, "when we're on this floor, it's just us, so it's been really great, the energy's been up, everybody's been real professional, everybody's participating very well, and trying to do everything they can to help this team and help themselves."
Now entering his ninth season in Boston, the longest-tenured member of the Celtics, someone his teammates consider the heart and soul of the team, does not believe trying to do more is the proper way for him to help hold everything together.
"I don't have to do more because of what I do. I'm not just out there talking. I'm out there proving by example with my work and how I approach the game every day, so I don't think I have to do more, I just think it's going to take more emphasis for guys to follow and really get in line with the identity that we're trying to create. And the beauty of it, we had, our starting five last year, everybody got a vote for (an All) Defensive team, so that speaks volumes about what we have (as) an identity and who we're trying to be."
Smart also discussed the signing of Blake Griffin, a move Boston made to strengthen its rotation at center.
"Love it. Obviously, lob city Blake and that Blake Griffin, he's not there, he's not above the rim anymore, but he still does great things. He's a great professional. Last year, he led the league in charges taken, which is, for a guy that doesn't play as much, or didn't play as much as him, that speaks volumes about what he does. He can affect the game, not just with his offense but defensively, so it'll be a great pick up for us. It's a great vet for some of these young guys to come in and listen to what he has to offer."
While Griffin's Celtics debut will come at a later date, Boston begins preseason play with a matchup against the Hornets on Sunday.