Monday, May 19, 2008

Season Review: Josh Smith

I believe that Josh Smith holds the future of this franchise in his (metaphorical) hands. I also believe there is something abnormal about Smith’s (literal) hands that is the root cause of his obvious weaknesses: jump shooting, dribbling, and favoring awkward finger rolls and flips over dunk attempts. I don’t know whether his hands are abnormal in shape, size, or strength or whether he simply lacks the degree of touch typical to almost all (non-tall stiff) NBA players but Smith’s hands are central to how Smith is different.

Despite the weaknesses this difference manifests, Smith should still possess an advantage over his defender in either the high- or low-post almost every time he touches the ball. (Kevin Garnett, Shawn Marion, and Shane Battier would be expected to negate much, if not all, of Smith’s typical matchup advantage.) Running the offense through Smith would, I presume, result in more turnovers (though his turnover rate has not increased as his assist rate and shot volume have both increased during his career) in the form of bad passes or the irregular bounce borne of wild, rogue dribbles. It would also engage Smith emotionally and mentally in the game more consistently (one hopes) while reducing the opportunity for Smith to attempt jump shots outside of 15’ and increasing his free throw attempts.

Here is where I would attempt to quantify the damage Smith's terrible jump shooting does to the Hawks offense. But's Hotspots has no data for any Hawks players right now. Smith did limit himself to 99 three-point attempts last year, making 25, and just failing to match his career average of 26.3% shooting from behind the arc. has Smith taking 48% of his field goal attempts as jump shots, for a 30.7 eFG%. As best as I can figure, that makes Smith 130-446 (29.1%) on his two-point jump shots. Even though the Hawks are a good offensive rebounding team (5th in the NBA) that volume of poor shooting can't be mitigated. Especially frustrating is that Smith set a career high in free throw attempts (5.8 per game) despite using almost half his field goal attempts on jump shots he wasn't making and gave him no real chance of drawing a foul.

While I hope that increasing Smith’s responsibilities offensively (and requiring him to play within the team concept defensively) would generate a positive response from Smith it remains but a hope based just on Smith’s typically perceptive post-game quotes and glimpses of Smith as a dominating basketball player during the stretches of games where he seems completely invested in the proceedings. I don’t know the man and, of course, that Mike Woodson can’t communicate successfully with Josh Smith isn’t entirely Woodson’s fault.

The potential of Josh Smith to become a franchise player, a potential that rests with Smith alone amongst members of the current roster, is worth sufficient reward to take the risk that Smith is simply an enigmatic talent that can’t or won’t maximize his talents, refuse to do things on the court that hurt his team’s chances of winning, and take primary responsibility of whether the team tops out at 40 or 50 wins in a season.

Ballhype: hype it up!


chris whiffen said...

some nice points on a kid, i believe, the hawks have to make a cornerstone (along with horford).

i think more needs to be made out of smith's relationship with woodson. this really is make or break for his development. let's be kind and say the early returns are not promising with woody at the helm. he obviously does not repect the man nor does he seem to listen to him. i fear that woodson may have secured a new contract with the team's surprising yet uneven playoff showing. i believe both gearon jr. and joe johnson have bestowed their blessings on woodson's continuing employment. yikes!

Anonymous said...

I looked forward to reading your attempt to encapusulate Josh Smith's season, even though I read this blog often enough to know your thoughts on the matter.

I'm surprised at the level of ineptitude he displays on his midrange jumpers. I knew he was horrible, but without having the resources to check I estimated he shot about 35% on his two point jumpers. To my dismay it's much worse than that.

This is especially frustrated when you listen to him talk. He acts and sounds like an intelligent young man. He doesn't act like it on the court.

There are a few key inarguable points to be made about Josh Smith.

1) He is a poorly coached player. It is either because he's nearly uncoachable, or because Mike Woodson is nearly irrelevant. I suspect some combination of the two, but whether most of the blame lies with the player or coach is impossible to determine.

2) He is only 22 years old. He's shown improvement since he first started as an NBA player, and his game has evolved a little bit each season.

3) He has the physical attributes to be one of the best players in the NBA.

If Josh Smith were able to develop his on ball skills-dribbling, passing, shot selection-he'd be the centerpiece of this team, and there's some pieces around him to make this a dangerous team.

CoCo said...

To address your concerns about Josh's hands: They are really small! He can't even palm the ball notice how he holds it when he dunks. He does need to handle the ball better, but I think he wouldn't be nearly as turnover prone if he didn't dribble in obvious positions on the court where he shouldn't be dribbling. He should never be in a position to have to take more than 3 dribbles. When he causes a turnover he has to learn to pass the ball to a better ball handler and let them lob it at the goal so he can finish the play. Too many times he tried to take it upon himself to dribble the length of the court and more often than not it was disastrous.
Having said all of that, he's an asset and clearly worth keeping, but I agree with just about everyone else concerning him and Woody. They cannot bring both of them back, rather they shouldn't. I wrote this in my season preview, if it comes down to a choice between Woody and Josh they have to pick Josh because I can guarantee no one is coming to Philips to see Woody.