A year after spending most of his time in the passenger seat with learner's permit in hand and safely buckled while Evan Turner assumed much of the ballhandling chores, the Celtics encouraged Smart to use summer league to increase his comfort level with running the offense and attacking the basket.
Smart responded Monday by flooring the gas pedal and ramming everything in front of him while putting up a game-high 26 points to go along with eight assists, five rebounds, two steals and two turnovers in 30 minutes during a 100-82 loss to the host Utah Jazz on Monday at Energy Solutions Arena.
Smart didn't have a great shooting night -- he finished 6-of-20 overall, missing eight of the 10 3-pointers he hoisted -- but he relentlessly attacked the basket, which resulted in shooting 13 free throws (he made 12).
Smart was coy on how he's improved as a driver. Asked about the keys to getting to the hoop, Smart said, "Just picking when and where to go. Especially with my size, picking my spots -- the right spots."
Does he feel more comfortable?
"Definitely. My ankle's feeling better. I can explode a little bit more off of it. So I can get to the rim a little bit easier now."
He proved it with a one-handed dunk during a transition opportunity on Monday. But Smart spent most of the night simply hurtling at familiar rival Dante Exum or anybody else who put themselves in front of the basket.
"He's going to be the primary ball handler for a lot of these games and he was not that for us during the regular season," said Celtics assistant coach Jay Larranaga, who is in charge of the summer squad in Utah. "Being able to balance handling the ball, attacking, getting the team into offense, knowing when to score and knowing when to pass -- that's a learning process. And you're playing against very high-level athletes that are trying to stop you from doing that. I thought it was a good first day for him. We'll watch the tape and we'll try to help him continue to learn. It's all about just timing and just finding your spots."
The Celtics have a plan to maximize these game reps with Smart.
"I'm trying to get to the basket a little bit more," Smart said. "I settled a little bit more this game. I need to do a better job of getting my teammates [involved]. I took a lot of tough shots [Monday]. So it's just something, you watch film, you analyze it, you move on."
Smart was his typical blur of activity for Monday's game, particularly on the defensive end. He struggled at times to limit Exum, who put up 20 points on 5-of-11 shooting and shot 10 free throws, but Smart routinely went to the floor chasing loose balls and constantly embraced contact.
So much so that Smart earned a flagrant foul in the fourth quarter. Yes, even in meaningless games, Smart doesn't know how to downshift.
The Celtics utilized all four of their rookies Monday. Some early impressions:
• Terry Rozier: The 16th overall pick has quickly (and appropriately) developed a reputation as one of the fastest players on the roster. He needs to harness that speed and improve his decision-making, but his quickness can be a difference-maker.
• R.J. Hunter: The 28th overall pick, whose father, Ron, was in the crowd at Energy Solutions Arena, missed all five of the shots he took, including a trio of 3-pointers.
• Jordan Mickey: The 33rd overall pick showed that he can still protect the rim while going up against bigger bodies. Mickey was one of the bright spots on the day with his three blocks and an ultra-efficient 16-point outing on 7-of-8 shooting.
• Marcus Thornton: The 45th overall pick got five minutes of action, but missed the only shot he took.
IVERSON EXPLORING OPTIONS OVER-C'S
Colton Iverson admitted last week that he faced long odds to make Boston's 15-man roster. He held out hope that he'd be able to showcase his improvements this summer and compete for a spot, but instead he'll pursue Plan B.
Iverson was not with the team for its summer league opener on Monday night and has been replaced on the active roster by Ralph Sampson III.
Larranaga wouldn't reveal when Iverson departed, but after the Celtics got outrebounded 51-31 in Monday's loss, he quipped, "We miss him. We could have used him on the glass [Monday] for sure. We could have used that big body."
In addition to Sampson, the following players earned DNPs for Game 1: Malcolm Miller, Corey Walden, and Phil Pressey. Walden had been battling a hamstring injury, while Pressey did not dress and sat with coaching staff for the game. ... Asked if Pressey might play in Tuesday's Game 2, Larranaga offered, "I gotta check with Danny [Ainge] and Brad [Stevens]. Hopefully. We would love to have Phil out there; he's a very good player." ... James Young had a quiet summer debut. He got going a bit late, but finished with 12 points on 4-of-11 shooting with three rebounds. On the positive side, Young was more active chasing loose balls and going to the floor. He's made strides defensively, but there's still work to be done. Said Smart of Young: "We felt like we could get him going a little bit [in the second half], and he knocked down some key shots. But what was really impressive to not only us but the coaches was his defense. He was diving on the floor, he was getting after balls and everything. So we didn't see much of that last year from James, so that's real big on his part." ... C.J. Fair started for Boston and wasn't afraid to get up shots. He took 10 over 24 minutes and finished 12 points.