Five seasons as Kemba Walker’s opponent failed to teach Marcus Smart a lesson he learned in less than two weeks as his teammate.
Smart told NBA.com’s Sekou Smith this week that Walker’s defensive prowess has impressed him during their short time together on the U.S. men’s national basketball team. Smart explained how Walker’s central role in the Charlotte Hornets’ offense often masked his ability as a stopper, but Team USA’s talented roster allows the 29-year-old to fully demonstrate his determination to defend.
“For me, I’ve noticed that Kemba can really play defense when he wants to do it,” Smart said with a laugh. “You know it’s tough, when you see how much energy he had to exert on the offensive end (in Charlotte), but he’s actually a really good defensive player, especially at his size. You find out that the little guys are usually more feisty and tenacious. But he can play defense and you didn’t really see that or notice that because he had so much of a load on him offensively that it was probably harder for him to do that.”
Smart’s assessment probably will thrill fans of the Boston Celtics, whom Walker joined this summer from the Hornets in free agency via sign-and-trade. If Walker’s defense proves as good as Smart advertises, it should bode well for Boston as it seeks to bounce back from the disappointment of 2018-19.
After all, defense doesn’t win championships on its own, but improvement in that regard increases the chance of success.