Marcus Smart has spent much of his rookie season battling through injuries. Lately, however, Smart has been quietly improving upon one of his biggest weaknesses — his jump shot.

It’s no secret that Smart needs to improve his 3-point shooting. I wrote about it — and why his lack of a shot means he should drive to the hoop more — earlier this season. Even Smart is aware of the criticism of himself, but that doesn’t mean he can’t fix it.

“That was the biggest knock on my game coming into the league was I couldn’t shoot,” Smart said following Monday’s win over the Pelicans. “Over the last 12 or 13 games I think I’ve been shooting the ball well and I’ve been in the gym every day.”

In Smart’s first seven games (five before his ankle injury and two while battling back and playing short minutes), he shot 6-of-28 from downtown for 21.4 percent. In his last 16 games, though, Smart has been much improved. The Oklahoma State product has shot 22-for-52 on 3-pointers, which is good for an impressive 42.3 percent over that span. To put that in perspective, that number would place Smart 11th in the league in 3-point percentage on the season, ahead of Stephen Curry (39.1 percent).

So what’s the cause for his improvement?

“Just trying to stay consistent with jumping straight up and down,” said Smart. “Not floating to the sides, left and right, just try to shoot the same shot. I’ve always known, ever since high school, what my problem was. It was just a matter of getting into the gym and working on it.”

Seems as though the work has paid off for the rookie recently, something his coach has taken notice of.

“He would probably say that he’s worked more deliberately and consistently than he’s ever done before,” Brad Stevens said at Tuesday’s practice. “That’s obviously an emphasis. We talked about it at the beginning of the year. We thought, coming in, that his shot was better than his percentages [Smart shot just 29.9 percent from deep in his final season in college], and we continue to think he’ll make shots.”

If Smart’s development wasn’t clear before Monday’s game, it is now. Up just one with under a minute left, Avery Bradley found Smart in the corner for a potential dagger. Smart knocked the 3-pointer down to clinch the Celtics‘ win without hesitation, something he likely wouldn’t have done just a couple of months ago.

Smart still could benefit from attacking the rim more. At his size — a 6-foot-4, 220 pound point guard — it certainly should be a bigger part of his game, especially since we saw him do it in college. But while he learns to find his way into the paint in the NBA, his new found jump shot is a great sign for Smart’s development going forward. If he can improve upon such a big weakness this early in his career, it makes you think that Marcus Smart has a whole lot of promise ahead of him.

Blog Author: 
Julian Edlow

A major theme of the rebuilding Celtics has been that no player is safe from being traded for the betterment of the team — something Danny Ainge has shown the willingness to do throughout his career (and now once again by trading Rajon Rondo). Here are some trades that make sense for the mess that is the Boston Celtics. Again, these specific trades are not rumors, simply ideas. This is part four.

Well, Danny Ainge is certainly doing a good job of trying to put this series out of ideas. Part one was built on a Rondo trade and parts two and three both featured Jeff Green, who is now a member of the Grizzlies. In the meantime, Ainge also found time to flip Brandan Wright to the Suns, and now begin talks with the Clippers about acquiring Austin Rivers — who was part of the return in the Green deal from the Pelicans. Needless to say, it was a pretty busy weekend for the C’s front office.

One obvious piece remains on this Celtics‘ squad that just doesn’t fit: Brandon Bass. There are limited options out there — the Cavs just added Timofey Mozgov and most of the buyers out West have found deals — but one destination stuck out to me.

BLAZERS GET: Brandon Bass

CELTICS GET: Thomas Robinson and Dorell Wright

As great of a teammate as Bass is, he just clearly is no longer of value to the Celtics. The Blazers on the other hand, could definitely use a boost off the bench of Bass’ caliber in the ultra-competitive Western Conference. In return, they give Boston two players that are hardly playing, but from Ainge’s point of view, he gets a free look at a former top-five pick on the last year of his rookie deal in Robinson.

Both Robinson and Wright come as expiring contracts (Wright wouldn’t figure into the rotation at all), so at worst Ainge lets both walk in free agency as he would with Bass. But if Robinson were able to flourish in his last chance to prove himself, Ainge may be able to find a hidden gem if he were to re-sign Robinson on a cheap deal. If the move paid off, Ainge would be adding another youthful asset that he likely otherwise would not have had access to (or a good enough evaluation on to go and sign).

Odds are that the former No. 5 overall pick would move on at season’s end, especially considering Boston seems to like Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk and Tyler Zeller. But again, if that were the case no harm to Ainge, he simply would clear the cap space he would have anyways when Bass finished up his time in Boston. Nothing fancy here, just a simple trade that seems to make sense for both parties involved.

Blog Author: 
Julian Edlow

After a tough road trip filled with trades, the Celtics returned home Monday to collect an impressive victory over Anthony Davis and the Pelicans. Jared Sullinger was a huge reason why. Sullinger finished with 27 points and 10 rebounds, stepping his game up against one of the top young talents in the league.

“I thought today’s a good example of his versatility,” coach Brad Stevens said of Sullinger’s big game. “When we had [Brandon] Bass in the game they usually matched up [Ryan] Anderson on [Sullinger], when we had Kelly [Olynyk] in the game they had to match up [Omer] Asik on [Sullinger]. And so when Asik’s on him he stretched it a little bit, and when Anderson was on him he posted. That’s why, in my opinion, a guy like Jared has to be able to do both if he’s going to be really good. I thought he did a lot of really good things tonight.”

While Sullinger really stood out in the box score, rookie Marcus Smart’s name would not pop if you only looked at the numbers. Smart’s contributions go beyond what’s on the stat sheet. He hit a 3-pointer out of the corner while falling down that clinched the game for the C’s — the most clutch shot of Smart’s career to date.

“He had nothing but zeros at halftime except for two assists and one turnover, and we talked as a staff, we thought he was terrific,” Stevens said of the No. 6 overall pick. “All that other stuff on a stat line isn’t where his impact can be the greatest, and he really made a huge impact, being his hands on balls, being active. I didn’t know coming into the game if he could guard [Tyreke] Evans and I thought he did a decent job on him — he’s a hard guy to guard, too. So he did a lot of great things. And obviously hit a big 3.”

Check out Sullinger’s postgame press conference below, but on a night when his Ohio State Buckeyes won the NCAA football national championship, Sully wanted to be brief so he could rush home for the second half.

Follow Julian Edlow on Twitter @julianedlow 

Blog Author: 
Julian Edlow
Marcus Smart

Marcus Smart

Whether it’s a direct result of trading Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green or a direct response to those deals, these young Celtics are playing with more purpose than they have all season.

“It’€™s kind of like being a younger brother,”  C’s rookie Marcus Smart said following a 108-100 victory against the Pelicans. “You’€™re always told, ‘You can’€™t do this; you’€™ll never do this,’ and you just want to prove them wrong. And that’€™s kind of what we’€™re trying to do.”

Rondo has since admitted to a lack of effort during his final 18 months in Boston, and Green was notorious for showing up one night only to disappear the next. That’s a horrible message for young players, and probably part of the reason they’re gone.

“I’€™d like to see everybody carry the torch,” Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said of a void left by trading his two top players, adding: “Everybody has to be a leader, and I’€™ve seen just in recent weeks that there are more voices to be heard and more people that are stepping up and trying to be leaders, and time will tell whether they can be. Sometimes some voices snuff out the voice of others, and we’€™re tying to create a culture where everybody takes ownership and it results in the success of the team.”

It’s difficult to describe, but some players suck the air right out of the locker room. Green was one, and Rondo another. Jared Sullinger and Avery Bradley respectively dressed next to that tandem, assuming their personalities in the postgame. Smart never followed the lead, though, if only because at 20 years old he doesn’t know any better. His locker is positioned in the center of the room, and he’s faced the music without skipping a beat.

“I still have a long way to go,” Smart said of assuming the leadership role in Rondo’s absence. “There are some guys in here who have been playing longer than me, and trying to get them to jell with me and listen to me is definitely a challenge, but I’ve been doing pretty well. We’ve been getting along with that. They respect me, and I respect them.”

He certainly commanded Celtics coach Brad Stevens‘ respect on Monday night, playing all 12 minutes of the fourth quarter as veteran Evan Turner watched from the bench. Smart collected four points, four assists and three rebounds in the frame — including a dagger of a chase-down, turnaround 3-pointer — as the C’s outscored New Orleans 36-24.

“He had nothing but zeroes at halftime, except for two assists and one turnover, and we talked as a staff; we thought he was terrific,” said Stevens. “All that other stuff on a stat line isn’€™t where his impact can be the greatest, and he really made a huge impact.”

The same can be said of Jae Crowder, a 24-year-old wing with a tireless work ethic, who arrived in the Rondo deal and assumed a starting role in the C’s three post-Green games.

“Well, I think that’€™s who he is,” said Stevens. “I think that’€™s probably more of his reputation prior to coming here — just being an intangible type of guy. One of the things I’€™ve noticed about Jae is he has a really deliberate way about his work.’€

After a pair of productive outings in back-to-back losses to the Pacers and Raptors over the weekend, Crowder scored a career-high 22 points on 14 shots to go along with four steals, three assists, three rebounds and two blocks in Monday’s win over the Pelicans.

“I know we live in a world where we have to watch our talk, but we were pretty sure that [Green] trade was going down Friday,” said Stevens. “So, this was really Game 3 [without him], and I thought they played hard. I thought we played hard all three games.”

As we learned with the arrival of Kevin Garnett, determination can be contagious, and the resolve of both Smart and Crowder might just be wearing off on their teammates, as Sullinger scored a season-high 27 points to go along with 10 boards and three assists.

“We’€™re going to fight,” said Crowder. “I’m not worried about what other people are saying right now. We know what we have to do each and every game to give ourselves a chance, and we have a good understanding of the unit right now, so we’€™re going to keep fighting.”

The Celtics still need stars to light the way, but at least two players are picking up a torch.

Blog Author: 
Ben Rohrbach

When Rajon Rondo was shipped out of town just over three weeks ago, Danny Ainge used a key word to describe why: uncertainty. That seemed to remain the reason that Ainge felt the need to ship Jeff Green to Memphis as well.

‘€œI just felt like [it was] a timeline thing,’€ Ainge said prior to Monday’€™s home win over the Pelicans. ‘€œThe players that we had, the uncertainty of the future and free agency, and [I] felt like we were getting good value in return based on this contract situation.’€

The trade doesn’€™t make this current season any easier on Brad Stevens, but the coach understands it’€™s a process geared towards the future.

‘€œLosing [Green] three weeks after losing your multiple-time All-Star point guard, there’€™s going to be challenges that come with that,’€ Stevens said. ‘€œThat’€™s why you prepare everyone to play and that’€™s why everybody’€™s got this talk about ‘€˜next man up’€™.’€

Last year everything was very new to Stevens, especially the trade deadline. Now in his second season at the NBA level, Stevens in learning to adapt to what to expect during the rebuild.

‘€œThis is about the time last year where we had some ‘€“ at the time for that team we had some pretty significant moves ‘€“ with Jordan [Crawford] being traded and Courtney [Lee] being traded,’€ Stevens reflected. ‘€œSo there’€™s a little bit of being able to look back and learn from that. I think I learned a lot from the Rondo trade, just as far as not only losing a really good player, but also trying to bring new guys in and get them up to speed as quickly as possible, but also recognizing that you don’€™t have to rebuild Rome in a day.’€

Yes Brad, patience is going to be key. Hearing Stevens speak in those terms makes you think that he’€™s both grown as a coach and knows what he’€™s in for in the long haul here in Boston. Those are two things we didn’t see right in his first year coaching (not that it was expected).

‘€œBrad and I talk almost everyday, so he understands it. He understands what’€™s going on’€, Ainge said of his coach ‘€“ maybe the only position that doesn’€™t seem to have any uncertainty at the moment.

Ainge knows that expectations have only been lowered since trading away his two best players, there’€™s a silver lining in it all, though.

‘€œWell, I haven’€™t been too excited about what I’€™ve seen so far this whole year,’€ Ainge offered. ‘€œI haven’€™t been excited about seeing 20-point leads get blown, but I’€™m certainly not blaming it on those two guys ‘€¦ we’€™re just trying to get better. We have a lot of young guys now that have become more of a focal point for us and they have to get better. And now there’€™s a little bit more onus on them to get better and take a little bit more responsibility.’€

Although Ainge might not be giving Stevens much to work with on the court right now, the President of Basketball Operations is confident that he is using the right method to build a winning team yet again. But could there possibly be such a thing as owning too many draft picks?

‘€œNo, because draft picks are always tradable, players are not,’€ Ainge responded. ‘€œDraft picks are always assets until sometimes they’€™re drafted, until they become players, or until they become paid.’€

‘€œI think you have to build through the draft,’€ Ainge continued. “Last time we built through the draft, and we developed players, and we were able to trade to get some veteran guys in that were ready to win, that were more compatible with Paul [Pierce] at the time. But we did it through the draft. That’€™s how I look at it and right now we’€™ll do the same thing: We’€™ll draft players, we’€™ll develop players and we’€™ll look for opportunities to take steps forward.’€

So now that Rondo and Green are both gone (along with recently acquired Brandan Wright) is Ainge done making trades?

‘€œI don’€™t know that, [I] never know that. I’€™m not done talking,’€ he chimed without hesitation. Whether we see the Celtics make another trade or not, it’s safe to say the trade talks are nowhere close to finished.

Blog Author: 
Julian Edlow

The Celtics defeated the Pelicans, 108-100, Monday night at TD Garden (click here for the box score).

Jared Sullinger

Jared Sullinger

The Celtics defeated the Pelicans, 108-100, Monday Night at TD Garden (box score here).

In a back and forth game which featured 14 lead changes, the Celtics were finally able to protect a late lead and seal a victory in the final frame.

Pelicans forward. Anthony Davis scored a game-high 34 points in the loss. Jared Sullinger led the way for the Celtics scoring 24 points and grabbing 10 rebounds.

Davis is a superstar

Given the Celtics inability to cover big men, it was expected that  “Le Brow” would dominate the game and light up the stat sheet. For the first three quarters, the Celtics did a great job of containing Davis, limiting to him to only 21 points. But in the fourth quarter, the NBA’€™s second-best player took over, scoring 13 points over the final 12 minutes.

While it might not have shown up in the box score, Davis had a huge impact throughout the game as the Celtics were keenly aware of his mere presence on the court. Celtics’ drivers were extremely hesitant to even attempt shot in the paint due to the big man. In the pick-and-roll, the Celtics seemed to overplay Davis, leading to Eric Gordon scoring a number of points at the rim.

Jared Sullinger is ready to step up

With the recent trades, Jared Sullinger is now the most talented player on the Celtics. Just like Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green before him, Sully was the final Celtic to be announced during the pre-game introductions. Sullinger had a great night, scoring 27 on 9-17 shooting. He was dominant on the offensive glass, accounting for  six of his 10 rebounds. He did an excellent job using his large posterior to keep Davis from getting position deep in the paint.

Stevens’ rotation still confuses

In the first two games after Jeff Green was traded, Brad Stevens stuck with a nine-man rotation. It appears that was the plan going into the night, but early foul trouble from Kelly Olynyk and poor play from Tyler Zeller forced Gerald ‘€œThe Human Digeridoo’€ Wallace into the game.

Surprisingly, the Pelicans were unable to capitalize during the few minutes Wallace played the five. Stevens, who refuses to play the same rotation twice, brought in Marcus Thornton as his first man off the bench. He also finished the first with a bizarre small-ball line-up that featured Bradley, Turner, Smart, Jae Crowder, and Sullinger. Rookie James Young played just under 10 minutes, contributing two points.

Crowder is a potential long-term piece

The more you watch Crowder, the more you like him. Prior to the game, Brad Stevens noted Crowder’s incredible toughness as well as the energy he provides on both ends of the floor. Monday night, Crowder displayed a solid mid-range jumper early in the first quarter. He played tough defense, especially early in transition, which created a number of fast break opportunities. He moved well with out the ball and showed a tremendous ability to explode towards the basket. Crowder had a nice old school give-and-go with Sullinger in the third quarter where he passed up an open jumper before cutting to the hoop for an easy dunk.

Crowder finished with a career-high 22 points. He also had four steals and two blocked shots.

Crowder is set to become a unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, but given his performance in his short time with the team, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Celtics make a big push to re-sign him.

Marcus Smart is a project

The sixth pick of the draft is still a project.

Defensively, Smart is a physical beast who is more than willing to get into the body of his opponent and move him off his spot. In the second quarter, Eric Gordon made the mistake of trying to get by him with a power move, Smart did not back down and took the charge.

Smart still struggles to run the offense, sometimes making poor decisions while passing. The offense generally slowed down while he was the sole ball-handler. Overall, Smart contributed a very solid 30 minutes. While he continued to shoot the ball poorly, he was able to hit a huge three-pointer in the final minute that sealed the victory for the Celtics.

Blog Author: 
Sam Packard

As the Celtics rebuild, president Danny  Ainge and coach Brad Stevens come under a microscope. (Getty Images)

Danny Ainge’s other shoe has finally dropped.

The Celtics officially announced the Jeff Green trade for an unidentified future first-round pick, Tayshaun Prince‘s $7.7 million expiring contract an

The Celtics officially announced the Jeff Green trade for an unidentified future first-round pick, Tayshaun Prince‘s $7.7 million expiring contract and Austin Rivers, son of former C’s coach Doc Rivers.

Green, whose 17.6 points per game currently lead the Celtics, joins a Grizzlies team battling for home-court advantage in the Western Conference. Meanwhile, Memphis sends Quincy Pondexter and a second-round pick to a Pelicans squad in search of a playoff spot.

According to Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski, who first reported the deal, the Celtics will receive a first-round pick from Memphis that won’t come to fruition until 2019 and are expected to send Rivers elsewhere in exchange for a second-round pick and expiring contracts. Surprisingly, the Clippers have been mentioned as a potential trade partner, potentially pairing Rivers with his father in Los Angeles.

Prince’s expiring deal will give the Celtics as much as $30 million in cap space this summer.

Blog Author: 
Ben Rohrbach