Marcus Smart is the player Draymond Green used to be

Marcus Smart is the player Draymond Green used to be

Draymond Green’s reputation precedes him, but Marcus Smart is the real deal now.
Image: Getty Images

The Draymond Green brand is still strong enough that LeBron James openly fantasizes about playing with him and his podcast is a hot topic even while the Warriors fall into a 2-1 hole against the Boston Celtics. Green, now 32, still benefits the Golden State Warriors in many ways. He sets bone-crushing screens, switches onto all five positions, and his playmaking stirs the drink.

While Draymond-type versatility doesn’t just fall off trees, he’s entered a stage in his career where he plays like Ben Simmons under bright lights, but with J.R. Smith’s irrational confidence. He’s unrepentant about firing tomahawk missile jumpers that scuff the rim, getting blotted out under the boards, and his inability to stretch the defense can sometimes neutralize the gravity Steph Curry creates.

For the past eight years, he’s been a rare Swiss Army Knife who has excelled as the defensive bouncer in Golden State’s jump shooting Shangri-La. Before a back injury forced him to miss two months of action, Green was on pace to run away with his second Defensive Player of the Year award. Instead, Marcus Smart, 28, became the first guard since Gary Payton to earn the highest honor for defensive stoppers.

There’s a destructive nature to both of their games. Smart and Green built their reputations by deconstructing beautiful offenses with their unique brand of physicality. Green became a linchpin in Golden State as their irreplaceable point-center for the past eight seasons. However, Marcus Smart has become the player Draymond used to be. Smart labeled himself the NBA’s first stretch-6 as a sixth man who could defend 1-5 in a 6-foot-4 guard’s body but moving to point guard is what boosted his placement in the NBA hierarchy.

Smart warps defenses with his switchability and remains agile enough to make life harder for demi-god guards like Curry. In three games, Curry is averaging 31.3 points per contest while shooting a remarkable 48 percent both from the field and from distance. When he’s been guarded by Smart, Curry’s tallied 12 points, shot 33 percent from beyond the arc and 36 percent in total. And in Game 3, Warriors shooters were 0-for-9 when defended by Smart. However, Smart has turned into the offensive threat that Green gave hints of becoming during the 2016 postseason.

Like Green, Smart has served as the emotional fulcrum for Boston. Every championship caliber team needs a rugged, fiery, and sometimes cantankerous leader. On the defending champion Bucks, it was PJ Tucker. Rajon Rondo assumed that role for the 2020 Lakers and in 2019, Kyle Lowry absorbed bruising charges and led by example. Smart’s criticism of the Celtics offense in November after failing to record an assist in 33 minutes was the sort of thing Draymond or Ben Simmons would be roundly mocked for.

“Every team knows we are trying to go to Jayson and Jaylen and every team is programmed and studies to stop Jayson and Jaylen,” Smart said after the Celtics lost an early regular season matchup to Chicago. “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 they’re going to learn.

Smart’s a bit more reserved than Green’s fire and brimstone style, but their roles within their respective ecosystems are reminiscent of one another.

Unlike Green, Smart has remained a genuine two-way threat and a viable third option for Tatum and Brown. In Game 3, Smart, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum became the first trio to each record 20 points, five rebounds and five assists in a Finals game since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson and Michael Cooper in 1984. Smart put up a true stinker in Game 2, scoring only two points, but in Boston’s pair of Finals wins, he’s been a net-positive on both ends scoring 42 points on 53 percent shooting, draining 50 percent of his triples and distributed nine assists.

In Game 2 against Boston, Green threw a wrench into the gears of the Celtics’ offensive machinations. Yet, an essential aspect of being a contender’s top guard dog is being a neutral offensive playmaker so that opposing defenses can’t throw extra bodies at their stars on the other end. Unfortunately, Green has been a loose grenade rolling around Golden State’s halfcourt offense.

There’s a reason why he’s begun thrusting himself into his second career. In his first postseason since 2019, the dropoff has been eye-opening. In 2022, Green is a shell of his 2019 self. He averages seven fewer minutes per contest, but his efficiency has reached disturbing lows. Through three games in the Finals, Green is shooting 36 percent from the field, 0-for-7 from distance and has scored only 15 points– in the entire series. That’s how many points Green averaged per game in 2016’s postseason. Even at the charity stripe, Green drains fewer than a quarter of his attempts after hovering around the 70 percent range for most of his career.

Green’s offensive productivity has dropped since 2019. That trend has accelerated in this postseason and snowballed in the Finals. Three years ago, Green helped buoy the Warriors after Durant strained his calf in the Conference Semifinals. In 22 games, Green averaged 13.3 points while connecting on 49.8 percent of his attempts and collected 10.1 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, 1.5 steals and 8.5 assists.

This postseason, he’s averaging single digits in points and rebounds on atrocious shooting splits. He should be a glorified assistant coach a la Udonis Haslem, but Green’s intensity as a defender and sonar passing keeps him glued to the starting lineup.

Green still has his moments, but they’re becoming fewer and far between. Green has two years left on his deal after this season, but the Warriors will likely be doling out costly extensions to Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins this summer. If Green doesn’t pull out a few throwback performances in the Finals, the Warriors will have to consider what to do with him before he becomes an albatross on the payroll and on the floor.

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About the Author

Anthony Barnett
Anthony is the author of the Science & Technology section of ANH.