Former Oklahoma State basketball standout Marcus Smart will miss the first two rounds of the NBA playoffs for the Boston Celtics with a torn oblique on his left side, according to Adrian Wojnarwski of ESPN on Wednesday.
Smart would have matched up against the Pacers’ Bojan Bogdanovic in the first round. Bogdanovic is averaging 18 points per game this season on a blistering 42.5 percent from 3-point range. The Pacers are without Victor Oladipo and the series is still more than winnable for the Celtics.
Where this really hurts Boston is not having Smart for a potential second round matchup against top seeded Milwaukee. Smart would likely guard Khris Middleton, who was a key player for the Bucks in last year’s playoff matchup against the Celtics.
The oblique tear heading into the playoffs also puts a damper the best season in Smart’s five-year NBA career in which he started in a career-high 60 games and played in a career-high 80 games.
Boston underperformed, winning 49 games and finishing fourth in the east. Westgate’s preseason over/under for the Celtics was set at 57.5 wins. A big reason for this was chemistry issues. Guard Terry Rozier broke out last season after Kyrie Irving suffered a knee injury. The absence of Irving and Gordon Hayward offered increased opportunity for Rozier, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. With the return of Irving and Hayward this season, players have started to play more selfishly, which has led to chemistry issues.
Smart has been one of the only constants of the Celtics season. He posted career highs in true shooting percentage (56.8) and 3-point shooting (36.4).
I can't believe Marcus Smart is a 41% shooter from the field. That's all I ever asked for, let alone the fact that he's 36% from 3— Cousin Steez (@AndrewDoxy) March 10, 2019
Smart’s shooting percentages have risen significantly in just about every category. True shooting, effective field goal, two and 3-point percentage have all risen. Even his finishing around the rim has gotten significantly better.
That short floater earlier a reminder Marcus Smart’s finishing has gotten immensely better this season. According to @bball_ref, his 68.5-percent shooting from 0-3 feet would smash his previous career high of 59.3.— Jay King (@ByJayKing) March 30, 2019
If Smart would have played like he has this season last year, he likely could have received offers in the $70-80 million range instead of the $52 million he signed last summer. To top off his career year shooting the ball, Smart won the Red Auerbach award at the end of the season, which is given to the player or coach who “best exemplifies the spirit of what it means to be a Celtic through exceptional performance on and off the court.” Smart is also a Defensive Player of the Year candidate.
Smart has three years and about $39.8 million left on his contract, making him extremely tradable. That money is well below market value for the performance he put up this year. It’s important to note as Boston has been linked to Anthony Davis in trade rumors for the last several years. Davis asked for a trade out of New Orleans at the trade deadline this year, but Boston couldn’t trade for him because of the Rose Rule.
Long story short, they cannot have Davis’ contract and Kyrie Irving’s current contract on the team at the same time. Irving will opt-out of the final year of his contract this summer which will allow the Celtics to trade for Davis. Boston may not want to give up the assets it would take to get Davis if Irving signs elsewhere.
Smart is a candidate to be included in any deal for Davis because of his talent and team-friendly contract. Boston will not want to give up Smart, but because Brown and Tatum are on rookie deals, including Smart may be the only way to salary match in a trade for Davis.
The good news is all that offseason drama is still a long way off. Smart will focus on getting healthy for the playoffs and making a potential NBA Finals run. While the Celtics underperformed in wins this year, they finished with a higher net rating (+4.2) than last years’ 55-win squad (+4.1). If Boston can survive Indiana and half (maybe more) of a series against Milwaukee without Smart, they could be in prime position to make the NBA Finals, a fitting end to the best year of Smart’s career.