Tim O’Sullivan: Toughest decisions yet to come for Celtics
Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart, right, poses for a photo with NBA commissioner Adam Silver after being selected sixth overall by the Boston Celtics during the 2014 NBA draft, Thursday, June 26, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
FILE - In this Feb. 22, 2014 file photo, Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart (33) goes up for a dunk in front of Texas Tech forward Jordan Tolbert (32) in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Stillwater, Okla. Smart is a possible pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, Thursday, June 26, 2014 in New York.(AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)
Kentucky's James Young dons a Boston Celtics cap after being selected as the 17th overall pick by the Celtics during the 2014 NBA draft, Thursday, June 26, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Making the right choice on draft night is tough. By choosing Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart with the No. 6 pick in last night’s NBA Draft, the Celtics created another choice, a choice that may be even tougher than picking the right player.
What to do with Rajon Rondo?
Like Rondo, Smart is a point guard. The two of them are not identical players, and they could possibly play together in the Boston backcourt. It just doesn’t seem like the right fit, which means Danny Ainge will likely be shopping one of them, and that one will probably be Rondo.
The Celtics were hoping to use their stockpile of first-round draft picks to pry Kevin Love away from Minnesota. But most of the reports out now say the Timberwolves don’t really want what Boston has to offer. Unless the Celtics can find a way to get what Minnesota wants, or find another star to put next to Rondo, they still will be in rebuilding mode next year.
If that’s the case, it only makes sense to deal Rondo, acquire more assets and let the younger Smart develop alongside Boston’s second first-rounder, shooting guard James Young from Kentucky, whom the Celtics took at No. 17.
Smart and Young. It sounds like the backcourt of the future. And more importantly, the two of them would fit together.
There has been a shift in the NBA from pure point guards and pure shooting guards to combo guards, or lead guards, or just plain and simple guards. Russell Westbrook, Steph Curry, Derrick Rose and Damian Lillard are all good examples. But Smart and Rondo don’t fit into this category, at least not now.
There’s no doubt Rondo is a pure point guard. He may be the purest point in the league. Smart could develop into a shooting guard, or at least a combo guard, but it would take some work. And it doesn’t make a lot of sense to select a player at No. 6 and then ask him to change his game.
First of all, Smart is used to having the ball in his hands. So is Rondo. Something would have to give there.
Second, Smart is not a great shooter. He shot just 41.3 percent during his two years in college, and only 29.5 percent from 3-point range. The outside shot isn’t exactly a strength for Rondo, either.
Having a pair of below-average shooters in an NBA backcourt is not a good idea. In fact, it’s a bad idea. And Ainge knows it.
Young, on the other hand, is known for his smooth lefty jumper. His numbers weren’t great at Kentucky (40.7 field goal percentage, 34.9 percent from 3), but he has the potential to become a marksman. It’s easy to picture Smart bulling his way into the lane with his wide shoulders, forcing the defense to collapse, and then kicking the ball out to Young for an open 3.
Maybe Ainge sees enough shooting potential in Smart to believe he and Rondo could form an effective backcourt. Smart can certainly score (18.0 points per game last year). He has the size (6-foot-4, 220 pounds, 6-9 wingspan) and athleticism to defend bigger guards. And he has the grit, competitiveness and attitude – intangibles that are viewed as his greatest strengths – that would allow him to adjust to a new role. And unlike Rondo, Smart is not an elite-level passer. He averaged 4.5 assists per game at Oklahoma State, a decent number but hardly spectacular.
So perhaps Ainge doesn’t see Smart as a point guard. Maybe he sees a rugged guard who can get into the paint, handle NBA physicality and score in bunches.
Most of the NBA’s new breed of lead guards could be described as scoring points who can shoot and most of them play next to bigger guards who can defend. But maybe Ainge is picturing a new blend of backcourt with a slashing/scoring combo who can defend bigger guards (Smart) playing next to a pure point (Rondo).
It would be an intriguing experiment. And if it didn’t work, Ainge could shop Rondo at the trade deadline, or even next summer. Or maybe he would choose to shop Smart.
But that seems like too much experimentation and expectation. The best case scenario for a Smart/Rondo backcourt would be an entertaining team that would probably get bounced in the first round of the playoffs and leave the Celtics stuck in the NBA no man’s land of mediocrity. The worst case scenario would be an offensive nightmare that stifles Smart’s development and lowers Rondo’s trade value.
As painful as it may be for Celtics fans, and owners, the best course of action will probably involve suffering through some more growing pains and rebuilding. Trade Rondo for someone who can protect the rim, which is really the team’s biggest need. Or trade him for assets that can eventually be turned into a rim protector. And let the young talent – Smart, Young, Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger – develop.
Even after making two big choices last night, the Celtics have a lot of decisions left to make.
(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3341 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)