Just to go back to the Marcus Smart debate for a sec, this may kinda be the answer to "why don't we look like the world-beaters that our roster should be this year, when the Jays are a year more experienced, they went to the Finals last year, and added Brogdon?"
It's not dispositive, but Marcus's +/- per-100 numbers took a nosedive. +/- on-court is mostly an assessment of how awesome your team is, of course: Marcus's pm/100 the last 4 years goes: +7.1, +2.7, +9.7 (!), +6.1 this year. And that's with 100% of his games being a starter, so it's a measure of how good we are at outscoring the other teams' starters. Fine. But while that helps mitigate any confounding effect from "who on the other team are you facing", it doesn't help isolate Smart's specific effects. Here are his On-Off/100 numbers those last 4 years:
Yes, that's a negative this year on the on-off numbers. Now, there's context to add there:
- Our bench is a lot better, so when they beat up the other team's bench better than our starters beat their starters, Marcus looks worse, in fact all our starters do, but it's still a good thing because depth is good (even if it's less
good in the playoffs)
- Those first 2 years, Marcus spent 73% and 55% of his minutes at the 2 rather than at PG, because we had Kemba. The last 2 years he has been PG for 92% and this year, 98%, of his minutes. That affects who he's covering, and he has always had a weakness against the exceptionally quick guards, your DeAaron Foxes of the league.
- Have to evaluate with respect to the alternatives. Malcolm Brogdon is at +5.2 on-court, but -2.4
on-off, worse than Smart; given that he usually leads the second unit, this argues against the idea that the Celtics ride a great bench. But also, Derrick White (3rd on the team in minutes) is +10.6 on-court, and +9.6
on-off, leading the team by a mile (Tatum: +5.9).
But what it does
say is, (1) we have generally had better people to play at his spot, when available, particularly White for PG duty, and (2) our eye test that we're getting a gimpy, well-less-than-100% Smart this year, who is a long way away from DPOY Smart, has plenty of confirmation to it.
But when he's available to the roster, he plays. He starts, in fact: 59 games played, 59 games started. So what's so different? Do we see any clues to it showing up in the stats? Looking again at the last 4 years, for context vs the present (And bearing in mind that he's only been primary PG this year and last year), we see:
FGA/36': 12.8, 11.6, 11.3 -> 10.8. He has been more-selective about shooting it this year. USG% says the same thing.
eFG: .476, .489, .501, -> .512. He has been more efficient at shooting in general this year, and steadily improved.
: .836, .790, .793, -> .757. Well, that's about a 5% drop-off this year, maybe that's "something bugging his hip" in his mechanics.
DRB/36': 3.4, 3.0, 3.6 -> 2.7. That's about a 20% dropoff in defensive rebounds from the prev 30-year average, even while ORB is largely constant. Going for less, or less effective at it, either way.
AST/game: 4.9, 5.7, 5.9 -> 6.4. He's assisting more than ever before, and anecdotally he's looked like a more-ambitious and more precise passer, too. What about his Points Generated from Assists?
PGA tot: 658, 678, 977 -> 899. Some of the increase comes from being PG more often, but he's being just as effective
as a creator this year as last year. Turnovers?
TOV/36': 1.9, 2.2, 2.5 -> 2.6. A little more than last year, but much of the change is probably just from the role change post-Kemba. Nothing surprising. Same is true if you categorize the turnovers.
: 3.0, 2.9, 2.5 -> 3.1. He has been fouling more, after reducing it greatly last year. Similar % increase in Shooting fouls vs Off-Ball fouls.
OBPM: 0.0, -0.4, -1.2 -> -1.7. He has been less-valuable as an offensive player this year, relative to his previous acceptable level of moderate suck.
DBPM: 1.4, 0.2, 1.7 -> 0.8. He has been dramatically
less valuable as a defender, with the net result leaving him not meaningfully above replacement-level as a PG this year (+0.5 VORP).
Fouls drawn shooting
: 53, 64, 69 -> 46. He has been less-aggressive about driving the ball this year, and/or inviting contact. Off-ball fouls not so much, those are 30, 31, 46 -> 48, if anything he's doing more of that.
OK so those are some clues, but none of them are slam dunk answers.
What does DARKO say? Let's compare against teammates, and also FVV because why not.
View attachment 62870
So a slight drop-off, with a mildly-concerning trendline, but not exactly falling off the table. The bigger effect to notice is how much better Derrick White has gotten this year.
Anyway my conclusion is, to the extent that we have any suggestions as to why he's doing so much worse than last year - and to the extent we can control for variables like "Derrick White is awesome" - it seems to be mainly an issue of mobility, since all the notable departures (fouling the ball-handler, FT%, drawing shooting fouls) seem like they're functions of agility and playing pain-free.
I don't know whether this means we should put him on the 2nd unit and start White / Jaylen, or try more White-1/Smart-2 lineups, or change who he's guarding, or give him the next 2 weeks off. But we can't paper over the gap between Smart This Year and Smart Last Year, the end result has definitely been measurable and substantial on the court.