Marcus Smart is in the midst of the best defensive season of his career and the best defensive year for a guard this century. He was rightfully rewarded with the 2021-22 Kia Defensive Player of the Year award, which made him the first guard to win the award since Gary Payton in 1996.
Smart deserved the honor more than the other contenders. I’m not debating that. But what if I told you (ESPN 30 for 30 voice), he’s not even the best defensive player on the Boston Celtics?
Marcus Smart is a deserving Defensive Player of the Year winner
In a season without a dominant defensive big man, Smart took advantage of the opening and dove on the ground (like he does every night) for the Defensive Player of the Year trophy. The Celtics point guard finished the regular season sixth in the league in steals (119), fourth in loose balls recovered (75), tied for 10th in both deflections (206) and charges drawn (16), and ninth in defensive win shares (3.7).
Outside of the raw stats, though, Smart locked up the opposing team’s best player on a night-to-night basis, and his effort plays down the stretch of games often times made the difference between wins and losses.
Smart finished with 257 points (37 first-place votes) in DPOY voting, which edged out Phoenix Suns forward Mikal Bridges and his 202 points (22 first-place votes) for the award. Even though he was named the best defensive player in the NBA this season, there’s a more impactful defender on Boston’s roster.
Robert Williams, not Marcus Smart, is the best defender on the Celtics
Smart was incredible defensively for the Celtics in the regular season, and he was a huge reason why Boston finished with the best defensive rating in the league (106.2). But he’s lucky Robert Williams missed 21 games this year, because he’s the true best defender on this Celtics roster.
With Williams on the court in the regular season, Boston went 40-21 while allowing 103.2 points per game. Without him, the Celtics went 11-10 and gave up 108.3 points per game. Comparatively, Boston allowed 104 points per game with Smart on the court and 107.6 with him off. Here’s how Williams and Smart matched up in defensive metrics this season:
|Metric||Robert Williams||Marcus Smart|
|Steals per game||0.9||1.7|
|Blocks per game||2.2||0.3|
|Defensive win shares||3.9||3.7|
|Defensive box plus/minus||3.1||1.7|
Williams asserted his dominance on the defensive end in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat. He held Bam Adebayo, who crushed the Williams-less Celtics for 31 points on 15-of-22 shooting in Game 3, to just nine points on 3-of-5 shooting in Game 4. The Heat finished with a series-low 82 points on 33.3% from the field, and Smart didn’t even play in the game.
Williams’ ability to shut down opposing bigs, protect the rim, and switch 1-through-5 makes Boston the most intimidating defensive team in the league, with our without Smart on the court.
As long as both can stay healthy, the Celtics should be considered the favorites to win the title next month.
All stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.