What Marcus Smart said about Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown (and, indirectly, Ime Udoka) on Monday night was, at the very least, jarring.
But guess what? He’s was not off the mark in the least bit.
Before we really dive in, here’s the full quote.
“I would just like to play basketball. Every team knows we are trying to go to Jayson and Jaylen and every team is programmed and studies to stop Jayson and Jaylen. I think everybody’s scouting report is to make those guys try to pass the ball. They don’t want to pass the ball and that’s something that they’re going to learn.
“They’re still learning and we’re proud of the progress they are making but they are going to have to make another step and find ways to not only create for themselves but create for others on this team, to open up the court for them later in the game where they don’t always have to take those tough shots or take tough matchups when they do get the 1-on-1 and then you bring the trap. Just reading that. It’s something that we’ve been asking for them to do and they’re learning. We just got to continue to help those guys do that and to help our team.”
At every layer, he is correct.
The Celtics’ offense over the last few seasons has become laughably predictable. Everything is run through Tatum and Brown, especially late in games. On occasion, Smart will take a shot, typically an ill-advised one, at a pivotal moment in the game. But even when Kemba Walker and Gordon Hayward were with the Celtics, they still would sooner go to Tatum or Brown.
It isn’t necessarily the worst thing that Tatum nor Brown want to pass the ball. That’s the mentality a player of their caliber should have. But there are nights when you just see that one or both of them couldn’t knock down a perimeter shot to save their life, and late in the game they make it a priority, an inexplicable one at that, to refuse to go to the rim. Therein lies the problem, as they become borderline useless from beyond 18 or so feet, but you know they’re also not going to take it to the bucket. Defenders can force them to shoot from outside and take their chances, knowing that they’ll be able to lock everyone else down with relative ease.
Some of this is on Udoka. For all of Brad Stevens’ flaws, he was great at drawing up plays — and thus far in his young head coaching career, Udoka’s approach to the offense, especially late in the game, feels akin to what you’d see at your local L.A. Fitness: Give it to the best player no matter how they’ve been that day, then cross your fingers and hope for the best.
No kidding the Bulls were able to expose the Celtics.
Given Smart’s propensity for ill-fated decisions to try taking over late in games, often unsuccessfully, he might not have been the best messenger. That doesn’t take away from the fact that he’s correct, and it’s worth keeping in mind that while he was critical, he wasn’t mean-spirited. His criticism was constructive, probably not something he hasn’t said to their faces before and also couched with acknowledgment that they are learning.
So, jarring? Yes. Wrong or mean? Absolutely not.