Marcus smart finished 8th in Defensive Player of the Year voting last season behind a handful of big forwards in centers. But just how good is he defensively?Why does he talk LeBron James with his finals record on the front of his jersey?And can a guard really be the best defender in the league?

Let's start with Smart's technical mastery of defense, using his inside hand on an opponent's hip to feel them and subtly control them armbar with the back of the hand and wrist, don't push players but resist them. If he can't reach your hip he'll resist against your chest. Meanwhile, his off arm is high and those feet are chugging. Hand checking was outlawed decades ago, so he has to be smart about this and this helps him fight through ball screens, dip the shoulder, keep the arms connected, and then the other hand is high, Smart keeps that other arm up to attack the ball. He's extremely accurate targeting at the end of drives and because his reaction time is matrix like, he can produce mind boggling defensive plays. Smart is among the league's best at forcing turnovers but this is mostly without gambling, just applying these techniques and pawing at the ball as a nuisance as part of his normal defensive approach.

Smarts combination of reaction time, quickness and techniques allow them to quash dangerous cuts and this makes for strong ball denial against certain players, sometimes shadowing players into a technique based deflection then going Mission Impossible to force the turnover. Smart's footwork is clinical too, when he's crossed up sometimes, both arms goes up and he back pedals diagonally to cut off the ball moving backwards thereby reducing the physical impact on the dribbler and making it hard to draw a foul. Marcus's reactions are not only lightning quick, but he's incredibly well studied, he knows to sit, stand his ground and takes the charge.

Marcus also uses that off arm to clog up passing lanes, knowing that there may be passes behind him so he chokes off that option. Some of his steals come from this technique and those reflexes, I mean, you've heard of no look passes, but what about no look Steel's? Some of these are just pure basketball IQ reading an opponent's eyes and doing the spectacular. He also has a specific technique for denying post entries that makes life difficult on passers leading to more turnovers. Smart works for a kind of three quarter denial, facing the entry passer and constantly moving, trying to sit in the passing lane, making the pass harder and that six nine wingspan is just long enough for a steal. Smart's in these spots, of course because his bull dog build allows him to leverage those 220 pounds and keep bigger players at bay. Smart has a few go to moves against bigs, jabbing at the ball or leading with his chest to hold them off and this turns into an awkward shot.

But Marcus is vulnerable to size. When players get deeper post position against him skilled big men can shoot over him with ease. Smarts efficiency numbers against post ups are above average, but he's not guarding the game's very best post scores and that limits his value as a post defender. Because he's at least passable in the post, He'll often scramble a weaker guard when recognizing a mismatch. This switch ability is impressive, but I'm not always sure how much it adds to a possession. Despite his size smart also has enough vertical pop and length to rotate and offers some rim protection. When he can load up, he'll make some spectacular saves at the rim.

But when he's flat footed, his lack of height shows up again.And he's not able to influence shots in the paint like games big or long forward. So he provides a little extra value for these spots and a guard but not too much extra value relative to big twos or even threes. He's been in the top 40 in offensive foul drawing rate in each of the last two seasons. If Marcus does have a conventional weakness, it's to backdoor cuts. He's rarely ball watching per se, but instead he'll recognize a player in the corner and then won't realize when he's left.

So is all of that enough for him to be a league best defender. Well impact metrics don't think so. These stats compare a team's performance with a player on the court versus off and some use optical tracking data but none view any guard as having the same defensive impact as the best big forwards and centers in the game. A lot of current defensive statistics are still fuzzy, but I do think they underrate smart because he's often asked to play up a position slot next to smaller point guards in Boston. Still, his value on that end is a clear rung down from the dominant defensive bigs.

Slowing down pick and roll actions or reading plays brilliantly does have value but it's not the same as a malleable paint protector. This is largely because basketball is still a game of size. A guard like smart would still need the stature of say, Paul George, to disrupt more plays in the paint and handle different pick and roll responsibilities and players like that end up playing forward or even some centers.

Like Draymond, Smart's a really strong passer and so pairing him next to off ball wings or even with a bigger offensive initiator could unleash Marcus as a supercharged three and D point guard. His three point shooting is up to 36% in the last two seasons. With a secondary playmaking and dynamic extra passing, he might have bonafide all star value on a title contender this way. But unlike great defensive big men, he's not joining a team and making them a top five or top 10 defense with normal defensive teammates.

I have his offense as a slight negative but that defense is still good enough to comfortably thrust him into sub All Star territory for me, because right now, I consider Marcus smart to be the best defensive guard in basketball.