The inevitable finally happened, and after eight seasons of leaving his heart and soul out on the floor, Celtics guard Marcus Smart was named the 2021-2022 NBA Defensive Player of the Year. His tenacity combined with an extremely high basketball IQ frustrate the opposition night in and night out. He is one of the few guards in the league that can guard positions 1-5 on a consistent basis and hold his own. He may be an inconsistent offensive player at times, but Boston always knows what the eight-year veteran is going to bring on the other side of the floor each time out. Leadership, pride, and relentlessness, that is the Marcus Smart way. People may have their own opinions of him, but in reality, he does not care because he is always true to who he is.
The last guard to win the award, Gary Payton along with his teammates and the coaching staff brought the news to him after the Celtics' practice on Monday afternoon. After the announcement, many of his teammates, coaches, and players around the league took the time to congratulate him on an achievement that was well-deserved. Following the news, Jaylen Brown spoke about how he felt, stating, "I can't be more proud of Marcus Smart...he's been guarding his butt off since he's been in this year, and now he has the accomplishment...it's great to celebrate as a teammate for all the hard work, all the effort he put in since Day 1, I've learned so much from Marcus...how he changes his game, says a lot."
Since being drafted with the sixth overall in the 2014 NBA Draft, the former Oklahoma State guard and finalist for the 2014 Naismith College Player of the Year has made his presence known as one of the most relentless players on both ends of the floor. Smart may be defined as an inconsistent shooter throughout his career, but his improvement is well worth noting. Each season, the heart and soul of the Boston Celtics have improved on both ends of the floor, but he has always had a passion and desire to lock down the best player on the opposing team.
Since he entered the league, Boston has been ranked in the top ten in defensive rating in half of the seasons he has been in the NBA. He has also been in the top-12 in total steals in a single season four times in his career so far. Smart has been selected to three All-Defensive First Teams and has been waiting for his chance to receive the recognition the people around him knew he always deserved. When analyzing Smart as a whole player, the box score will never show the entire story. For years, Boston had been trying to find the right point guard to lead the team with Brown and Tatum as the superstars. From Isaiah Thomas to Kyrie Irving to Kemba Walker, all of them had a multitude of successes, but this season just proves that the franchise has had the future right in front of its eyes the entire time.
If the Celtics are going to go on a deep playoff run or possibly win the franchises' 18th title, Smart is going to be one of the biggest reasons why. Each team has its own superstar, and there is no better defender for any star in the league than Smart. On the path to the NBA Finals, Boston will battle against Kyrie Irving, potentially Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, and even Devin Booker. He is one of the few guards in this league that can battle at an elite level against positions 1-5. Smart boxes out some of the most lethal scoring centers in the league like Nikola Vucevic, and frustrates the best shot creators in the league to take almost impossible shots.
The number of boxes that Smart checks on the defensive end is an endless list that is constantly evolving given his desire to always want to better his game.
Smart becomes just the fifth guard in the history of the league to win the DPOY since it was established in 1983 joining Gary Payton, Michael Jordan, Sidney Moncrief, and Alvin Robertson. In an award that has been dominated by big men, if there was another guard to win this award, Marcus Smart was going to be that guy. Payton at the time seemed like he was going to be the last guard to win the award, but with Smart winning, he could be the player to pave the way for others behind him at the guard position.
Boston had three players receive votes for DPOY including Smart as the Celtics have had the best defense for the entire 2021-2022 season. He is the second Celtic of all time to win the award along with Kevin Garnett. The last time a player on the Celtics won this award, Boston ended up lifting the Larry O'Brien trophy in June. Only time will tell if the Celtics are going to win their 18th banner, but looking at the 2008 team compared to this 2022 team, both teams' identities are exactly the same, toughness, and defense led by a few elite superstars.
If there was anyone on this planet that was born to play defense, it was Marcus Smart. This award is not the end, it is only part of the journey of what is growing into a storied career with one of the greatest franchises in NBA history. Through trials and tribulations, Smart always continued to be himself on and off the court. He remains in Boston for the foreseeable future as he signed an extension over this past offseason. Smart has been a player filled with desire, and passion who is willing to do whatever it takes to win each game in the end. This award finally puts just some of what he does into public view.