WINTER PARK, Fla. — There are some nerves there, yes. Some butterflies in his stomach.
Sure, it’s only summer league, but Marcus Smart is human, after all, and it will still mark his first appearance in the professional ranks.
“A little bit nervous, but more of an anxious feeling. It’s going to be my first NBA game, so there’s definitely a little bit of nerves,” the Celtics guard and No. 6 overall pick said Friday before the team practiced at Rollins College.
Smart will make his NBA debut when the Celtics face the Miami Heat at 11 a.m. on Saturday at the Orlando Magic’s practice facility, and Smart is expected to play heavy minutes at point guard.
All throughout the team’s practices leading up to their summer league debut, Smart’s teammates and coaches have raved about his defense and leadership.
For him, the week has just been about getting familiar.
“It’s a whole new group of guys, so I’m just trying to figure out their tendencies and who likes to do what,” Smart said.
But he believes he reinforced that he can be versatile, especially on defense.
“Yeah, that I can guard pretty much any of the guard spots, [while showing] my physicality and my ability to move with smaller guards,” Smart said.
He’s definitely one of the more physically mature rookies, checking in at a sturdy 230 pounds, most of it muscle on his 6-foot-3-inch frame, but his mobility and 6-9 wingspan will help him when he’s facing smaller, more agile guards.
But while playing point guard, Smart has also proven in the past week to be quite the distributor, even if he’s playing with a new set of teammates.
“He’s a very unselfish player,” said Celtics assistant Jay Larranaga, who will be coaching the team’s summer league squad. “That’s a big part of it when you’re a point guard — knowing when to get rid of the ball. He passes it very freely, but he’s also able to score as well. It’s been good.”
Larranaga said he’ll play Smart and Phil Pressey together at times. The two will share point guard duties here and there.
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Because the Celtics haven’t had many practices, Larranaga said he doesn’t really have a sense of lineup combinations that might work as the team heads into summer league play.
“Everyone is probably thinking a little bit much right now,” he acknowledged. “You have to get comfortable with your surroundings before you can start developing that chemistry. Hard to develop chemistry when you’re thinking so much and we’re thinking a lot right now. We’re playing really hard, but we have really team-orientated players so I think eventually that will be a strength of us.”
As a coach, he said his job is to back off in such situations so the players can figure it out, which is easier said than done.
“The challenge is not to coach so much — to make it very, very simple,” he said. “The more you try and coach, the more sets you try and put in, the more the players are thinking — in a short amount of time that makes a difficult dynamic. So you really have to pull the reins back on yourself and just let them play and let them play the game of basketball with the instincts that they’ve had their whole lives.”
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Celtics rookie swingman James Young, who was selected with the No. 17 overall pick out of Kentucky, missed practice for the third consecutive day this week and it’s unclear if he’ll play Saturday.
Young was in a minor car accident before the draft that kept him from working out with several teams during the predraft process.
Because of lingering neck issues as a result of that accident, the Celtics have kept Young sidelined during practices, though he has participated in light shooting and cardio off to the side.
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After missing his entire rookie season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, Everett native Nerlens Noel is expected to make his NBA debut for the Philadelphia 76ers when they face the Magic at 1 on Saturday.
Noel suffered the knee injury in February 2013 during his freshman season at Kentucky, and he hasn’t played organized basketball since.
“Regardless, there’s going to be a lot of adrenaline,” Noel said after a recent 76ers practice, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
“I know I’m going to have a lot of nerves, and be a little nervous, but more excitement.”
Also expected to make his NBA debut in Orlando is Roxbury native and former UConn standout Shabazz Napier, who was drafted by Miami. The intrigue there is that he’ll face off against the Celtics, the team he grew up rooting for.