The Boston Celtics emerged from the All-Star break as the top team in the NBA, and a solid run out of the gate could have cemented their billing as the favorite to win a title this season. Instead, they are in the middle of their worst stretch of basketball of the season, as they have gone 5-5 in the ten games since the break. There are a lot of problems with this team, but it’s clear that Marcus Smart has become one of the problems yet again.

Smart is easily the most divisive player on Boston’s roster, which has been the case for much of his career. He can miss a handful of shots that make you ask why he’s taking them in the first place before drawing a huge foul or making a hustle play that helps you remember why he’s on the court in the first place. Smart finally seemed to find his role with the C’s last season, but as of late, he’s looked completely lost.

It would be one thing if Boston had no one else to turn to behind him, but that isn’t the case. The Celtics have two starting-caliber guards behind Smart who can effortlessly spell him when he needs a break, and it’s presented the coaching staff with a tough decision to make. But Smart’s struggles simply cannot be ignored anymore, it’s time for Boston to address their massive Marcus Smart problem.

The Celtics must do something about Marcus Smart

Smart suffered a right ankle sprain at the end of January that held him out for 11 games, but ever since he’s come back, he has been arguably the worst player to take the court for Boston on both ends of the floor, and that’s saying a lot considering Smart’s prestige on defense. Maybe he’s still hurt, but whatever the reason is, it’s clear something has to change.

In the 11 games he’s played since returning from his ankle injury, Smart’s numbers are not very good (11.9 PPG, 3.8 APG, 2.8 RPG, 37.9 FG%). His assists per game have plummeted, and he’s shooting the ball more (10.5 FGA per game) while making less of his shots. Smart’s season averages in field per goal percentage (41.2 percent) and assists per game (6.5) highlight his drop in play.

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Smart is also contributing to Boston’s defensive struggles, which have flared up at a pretty bad time. The C’s are getting run ragged by speedy guards who can shoot at the perimeter on one possession and drive to the hoop on the next possession. That’s because Smart, who is tasked with guarding the opposing team’s top guard, is getting run ragged right now. Smart’s never been the fastest guy in the world, but his defensive IQ is no longer making up for his inability to stay with these speedy guards.

The decline in play is wildly concerning. Smart was a key piece of Boston’s deep playoff run last season as the team’s top facilitator on offense and defensive anchor, but right now he is neither of those things. He’s not hitting his shots, he’s not setting up his teammates, and he’s not playing good defense. At this rate, he has no place on the floor for the C’s.

That’s partly because this team has two starting caliber guards who are forced to sit on the bench and watch Smart put together clunker after clunker in Derrick White and Malcolm Brogdon. Even when Smart is playing at his best, you can make an argument that both of these guys are better players than him, and right now, there is no reason for Smart to be starting over either of them.

Let’s start with White, who is putting together easily the best season of his career (12.1 PPG, 3.9 APG, 3.4 RPG, 46.1 FG%). After looking somewhat uncomfortable in his role with Boston last season, White has been phenomenal this year. In the 11 games Smart missed, all of which White started, these are his per game averages (20.1 PPG, 5.8 APG, 4.6 RPG, 49.1 FG%, 43.6 3P%). Smart comes nowhere near that production, even at his best, showing White’s ceiling as a starter is way higher than Smart’s.

Then there’s Brogdon, who has come off the bench in every game he’s played this season, but is clearly a better all-around player than Smart. Brogdon has been precisely what the Celtics need this season (14.7 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 3.6 APG, 48.5 FG%, 45.7 3P%) but his ability to make an impact has been stunted by his limited role. Brogdon is the guy Boston needs to step up as a third scorer behind Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, but he isn’t getting the minutes right now to do so.

Smart is playing the most minutes per game out of this group since returning from his injury, but he should be playing the fewest. He is getting out produced by White and Brogdon on both sides of the floor currently, and the longer the Celtics coaching staff ignores this, the longer their cold stretch will go on for. As tough as it may be to do, if Boston wants a shot at winning a title, they are going to have to cut back Smart’s minutes and give them to White and Brogdon. Otherwise, their cold stretch could persist for quite some time.