Coaches know their players better than anyone. They’re experts at evaluating talent. That’s why the media often polls coaches to get their thoughts on the best players at certain positions. Sometimes the results are surprising. This was the case when NBA coaches were asked about the best defenders in the NBA. While a couple of the choices were unsurprising, the Celtics’ Marcus Smart was an unexpected pick.
Marcus Smart’s NBA career
The Celtics chose Marcus Smart with the sixth overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft after playing two seasons at Oklahoma State. He has turned into a serviceable player for them over the last six seasons.
Entering the NBA’s restart of the 2019-20 season, Smart has a career 9.9 scoring average. He’s averaging 3.6 rebounds, four assists, and 1.6 steals per game. He was named to the 2014-15 All-Rookie Second Team, and he was selected for the 2018-19 All-Defensive First Team.
Patrick Beverley: elite defender
In eight NBA seasons, Patrick Beverley has earned a reputation as an elite defender and disrupter, as Medium details. He has earned the nickname “Mr. 94 Feet” because he can pick guys up full court but can pester opponents throughout a game.
When Beverley’s Clippers played the Warriors in the first round of the 2018-19 playoffs, he guarded Kevin Durant through most of the series and compiled a terrific +4.9 DBPM. Beverley was named to the All-Defensive Second Team in 2013-14 and the All-Defensive First Team in 2016-17. During the latter season, he averaged a career-best 5.9 rebounds per game — 1.5 rebounds ahead of his career average.
When the NBA season was suspended in March, he was having his second-best rebounding season. During that time, he averaged 5.4 points per game. This put him on pace for another All-Defensive Team selection when the regular season ends.
NBA coaches pick Smart over Beverley for defense
When The Athletic anonymously polled 33 NBA coaches about the best defenders in the NBA, some results weren’t surprising. Rudy Gobert and Giannis Antetokounmpo earned the most first-team votes at their respective positions. They also led all vote-getters in overall points. Both are in the top four in the NBA in rebounding, which one coach said “is a key, key thing to defense” this season.
A more unexpected result was Marcus Smart getting 52 votes, the third-most in the poll, and earning one of the starting guard positions. He earned 22 first-team votes and eight second-team votes. Many coaches named Smart first when asked about their All-Defensive First Team. One said, “He’s just that good,” and he didn’t hesitate to make Smart his first pick. Another coach loves Smart’s “intensity, his willingness to guard anybody.” He also praised the 6-foot-3 athlete’s willingness to sacrifice and take charges.
Beverley earned one of the two guard spots on the second team. He earned 32 points. This put him 20 points behind Smart. This is a huge feat for the Celtic considering that many consider Beverly as elite on the defensive side of the ball. Beverley earned 10 first-team votes, less than half of Smart’s 22.
One coach said Beverley “changes the game at that end of the floor, but overall the coaches felt that wasn’t enough for Beverley to outscore Smart in the balloting. It’s a big deal for Smart to have this point differential between him and Beverley. The coaches seem to know talent when they see it.