Maybe the Sixers Should Have Traded for Marcus Smart After All

Dec 7, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) against the Orlando Magic during the first quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 7, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) against the Orlando Magic during the first quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

When NBA Trade rumors pushed the idea of Marcus Smart for Jahlil Okafor, Philadelphia 76ers fans wanted none of it. But now it looks like a good deal.

January was an incredible month for the Philadelphia 76ers. The team went 10-5, matching their entire 2015-2016 season win total in just 15 games. The Sixers also ranked first in the NBA in total defensive efficiency, largely because of Joel Embiid’s emergence as a defensive juggernaut.

It was truly an exciting month to be a 76ers fan, there was even talk of going to the playoffs echoing the halls of the Wells Fargo Center.

But what a difference a month can make. Joel hasn’t played since the Sixers’ loss to the Rockets on January 27th, a game in which James Harden scored 51 points. Since January, the 76ers have been a completely different team. Without Embiid, the team has lost 6-9 possible games and has given up an average of 111 points per game, as opposed to the 102.5 they gave up in January. For a team that prides itself on defense, and often finds itself in very tightly contested games, this margin makes a huge difference.

On the other hand, the month of February has been an absolute revolution for Boston Celtics combo guard Marcus Smart. In the absence of Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart has seen his field goal percentage increase from 35 percent in January to 46 percent in February while serving as the Celtics starting shooting guard alongside Isaiah Thomas.

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Known as a defensive bulldog since his days at Oklahoma State, Smart’s offense has always held him back from being a true NBA star. Once called the worst 3-point shooter in the NBA, Smart has been finding ways to impact the game on offense even when his outside shot isn’t falling. According to ESPN, Marcus Smart has the fifth highest defensive real plus-minus rating of any point guard this season so far.

He is also one of only eight point guards to have both a positive offensive and defensive real plus-minus percentage. To put that into context, T.J. McConnell has an offensive real plus-minus percentage of -1.70, and a defensive real plus-minus percentage of -.22.

Marcus Smart’s fantastic month ended with an absolute monster game against the 76ers. Smart scored 21 points, with 5 rebounds, 5 assists and an amazing 8 steals. These recent performances have made Smart nearly untouchable as a trade asset.

Smart, who had been linked to the 76ers as a potential trade target in exchange for Jahlil Okafor since the beginning of the season, was never a popular player with Philadelphia basketball fans because of his horrendous outside shooting. Few could see the merits in trading for a player who would be a questionable fit with Ben Simmons, and instead, favored taking a trade for an outside sharp shooter. But as Marcus Smart continues to develop offensively, it’s fair to wonder if maybe the 76ers should have traded for Smart when they had the chance.

Marcus Smart has proven he can guard nearly any NBA player, even much taller players like Paul Millsap and Anthony Davis. Marcus Smart was also able to hold James Harden to 4-for-21 shooting from the field, the same guy who scored 51 on the 76ers.

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Similar to how the 76ers use Robert Covington, Smart is often tasked with shadowing the other team’s best player, usually to positive results. The 76ers are giving up 22.1 points per game on average to opposing guards, so the addition of a 6-4 220 pound middle linebacker combo guard, who can cover either guard position, would be an extremely effective upgrade. A pairing of Marcus Smart, Joel Embiid and Robert Covington, who is the best defensive small forward in the NBA, would give other teams nightmares for years to come.

While Marcus Smart may never be the NBA’s Offensive MVP, he has surely proven himself to be solid on the offensive side of the ball in Avery Bradley’s absence. At only 22, it appears that Marcus is just beginning to discover his true potential as an NBA player. Smart has proven himself to be one of the NBA’s best young combo guards, but his game is almost diametrically opposed to that of a traditional combo guard.

Typically a combo guard is a point guard with a shooting guard’s mentality, whereas Marcus Smart has the size and able to start at either point or shooting guard, but impacts the game with his defense and slashing, not with outside shooting. He has proven himself to be a solid slasher, and with some improved shot selection, could be a threat to score from all three shooting ranges.

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While the 76ers definitely need to surround Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid with capable outside shooters, they also need players who can make plays, and Marcus Smart is an NBA playmaker. When the clock hit 0 on the Celtics vs 76ers game on February 15, Jahlil Okafor’s box score read 2/5 with 4 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists, whereas Marcus Smart’s box score read 7/11 with 21 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists and 8 steals. Who would you have preferred the 76ers bring back to the Wells Fargo Center?