Marcus Smart will be a focal point this season for Celtics. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)
WALTHAM — The Celtics have a wealth of riches in the backcourt.
Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley come into camp as the two players projected to be the starting backcourt, with Terry Rozier and Demetrius Jackson in the wings.
Then there’s Marcus Smart. The 22-year-old point guard in his third year out of Oklahoma State could be in store for a breakout season.
One reason the Celtics let Evan Turner leave for greener pastures in Portland is because they think they have the perfect sixth man candidate to step in and take his place. It would appear Smart will get a chance to fill that role early on in the season.
Along with teammate Avery Bradley, he is considered one of the best and most physical perimeter defenders in the East. He has also shown the ability to handle bigger bodies in the low post (like when he was called on to slow down Atlanta’s Paul Millsap in Games 3 and 4.)
This could be the year Smart takes that next step. But as it stands now, he’ll still likely be doing it as the first man off Brad Stevens’ bench. And that’s OK with him.
“If that’s what this team needs me to do, then that’s the role I’ll take,” Smart said Monday during media day. “With the absence of Evan, he’s going to be missed here. The things he brought to the team, he created his own jump shot. He created for others. Everybody else understands the role that he left us with and we have to step up as a team, I have step up as an individual, but this team has to step up. And there’s a lot of players.
“We’ve got guys coming off the bench like Terry Rozier, who’s been real good in the offseason. And as you guys saw in the Summer League, he’s been playing his butt off. Everybody has to step up and everybody understands that.”
Smart knows full well that to reach his full potential as a sixth man, he needs to work on his offense, in particular his shooting, something he repeated Monday during media day.
“My decision-making, coming off ball-screens, working to get into the lane and finishing. And as everybody knows, still working on my jump shot and becoming a more consistent shooter,” Smart said. “As I get in the paint, different looks [coaches] have been thrown at me. Working with these coaches, they throw different looks. If a guy does this, make this read. This read is that read what this happens and things like that.
“It feels good to be back, to be around this organization, these players, this group of guys and this coaching staff. We’ve got us some new additions to the team, with Al and Gerald and those guys. It feels good to have them out there. I think I speak everybody when I say we’re excited and I’m excited to get it started [Tuesday].”
With the key additions and the team relatively healthy coming into camp, Smart senses the heightened expectations.
“The goals for this team is: The sky is the limit. As long as we work hard and do what we’re supposed to do and stay together, anything is possible is the words of the great KG,” Smart said, channeling Kevin Garnett’s spirited yell after Game 6 in 2008.
Smart insists that the Celtics are in position to challenge the defending champion Cavaliers.
“We’re right there. We have the right pieces,” Smart said. “Any team can be beat on any given night. We’ve just got to come out, as long as we believe in ourselves and stick together, anything is possible for this team.”
Smart also believes there’s a tremendous focus and sense of purpose, even with so many new faces. At just 22, Smart is in a position where he can start to take some leadership of the team, even with the likes of Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and Al Horford on board.
“First off, this team understands and knows, and we’ve been talking about it, this is a new season,” Smart said. “We haven’t done anything yet. We’ve got to continue to stay hungry. When we start getting complacent and listening to the outside and everything and what everybody’s projections say, and you start letting it creep in and you start letting things come in and interrupting what you’re trying to do. Like I said, we have to stick together and keep our mindset right and stay hungry.
“Something that’s unacceptable for this team is not sticking together, allowing distractions to get in and interrupt what we’re trying to do,” Smart said. “That’s what every team will tell you trying go for that banner, that next one. We have the right pieces to get it. The question is: Are we going to keep doing the right things from Day 1, from Game 1 to Game 79, 82 and into the playoffs. Are we going to continue to do the right things?”