Marcus Smart was a vocal and defensive catalyst for the Boston Celtics’ run to the NBA Finals last year, a feat that wouldn’t be so surprising if it happened again this June.
He was the first guard to win Defensive Player of the Year since Gary Payton accomplished the feat in 1996 — the same year Payton led Seattle to the Finals.
Given that, it wasn’t a surprise to see Smart give his top five defenders in the NBA this season — and he couldn’t pick himself.
“I might be biased, but Robert Williams,” said Smart to Yahoo Sports, referencing his teammate. Smart joined Yahoo Sports as part of Tres Generaciones Tequila’s “Get up Tres” campaign where he speaks about his journey to the NBA in a group of Instagram videos.
“Bam Adebayo …”
Smart paused, being reminded he said Miami’s versatile big man “wasn’t in his class” last season when talk of the league’s best defenders came up.
“He wasn’t in my class — at the time. Last year he wasn’t,” Smart said. “Mikal Bridges [Brooklyn]. Jrue Holiday [Milwaukee] — surprised he hasn’t won Defensive Player of the Year. Probably my fifth: Jaren Jackson Jr. [Memphis] what he’s doing leading in blocks. Big anchor for that team. Lot of guys who could go on that list could’ve been Defensive Player of the Year. I’m just blessed to be in position.”
Jackson Jr. leads the league in blocked shots for the second straight season, but has upped his production by a whole block per game from last year. Bridges finished second in voting behind Smart last season as a member of the Phoenix Suns before being sent to Brooklyn in the Kevin Durant trade right at the deadline.
And Holiday is probably the league’s most feared on-ball defender next to Smart, hence why Smart was surprised Holiday hasn’t won the award yet. As Smart mentioned, there were a number of players he didn’t mention who’ve been pretty decorated over the years: Rudy Gobert, Draymond Green and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
It just speaks to how hard it is to play defense compared to when he first got into the league. In Smart’s rookie year, 2014-15, teams averaged exactly 100 points per game. Now, it’s closer to 115 points per game.
“What a lot of people don’t understand, you’re already at [a] disadvantage stepping on the floor,” Smart said. “Contact used against you — everything protecting the shooter. Everyone [is] tired of low-scoring games. Wanna see dunks, 3s, [high-scoring] points. Have to find way to affect on that end — it’s hard.”