The Boston Celtics sorely missed Marcus Smart over the last month and a half as he recovered from a torn calf injury. Smart is the spiritual leader of the team and just so happens to be its best passer and defender.
So, when he was gone, the team predictably struggled to replace him in those areas. Struggled might be too light of a way to put it. Boston fell off a cliff on both sides of the ball without Smart on the floor.
Pre-injury: 10-8, 10th offense/11th defense/8th net
Post-injury: 9-10, 17th offense/21st defense/19th net
Smart is back, though. He’s expected to make his return in the Celtics’ first game back from the All-Star break, and it’ll be a welcomed sight to not only see him on the floor again, but for Boston’s core four players actually get more time together. Smart, Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Daniel Theis, the starting five that took the Celtics to the Eastern Conference Finals a year ago, has only played 41 total possessions together this season. In those minutes, they’re a +18.1.
Aside from the obvious benefits Smart will bring on the court, there’s an added significance to getting him back exactly two weeks before the NBA trade deadline on March 25. It’ll give Danny Ainge and the Celtics’ front office more clarity on what this team actually needs.
If you had to pinpoint Boston’s biggest needs entering the deadline, they’d probably be bench scoring, a versatile defender on the wings, and a playmaker to help get the offense moving on nights it becomes a little too iso-centric. Those were the main problems we saw with Smart out, and if he can rectify any of them by himself then all the better.
It wouldn’t make a ton of sense to swing a trade for Lonzo Ball or Rajon Rondo if Smart is exactly what the Celtics needed in that department anyway. Same goes for someone like PJ Tucker. Also, if Smart can elevate the play of some of the supporting cast, like Payton Pritchard, Robert Williams and maybe Aaron Nesmith, it’ll make it easier for Ainge to target someone who can come in and fit seamlessly with his group.
This doesn’t mean Ainge will completely change his targets based on what he sees over the next handful of games, but if Smart does nothing else immediately after his return, he’ll give the Celtics, and us for that matter, a better idea of the holes this team needs to fill.