Wednesday, May 27, 2009

2008-09 Season Review: Josh Smith

Josh Smith is a player of non-integrated* parts. Similarly non-integrated is this post which may, in its very structure, reveal more about my conflicted feelings about Smith than do its words.

*A different (better?) season review would explore the issue of whether his failure to integrate his skills into a cohesive whole is itself a fool's errand and this effort to normalize himself under the rubric of NBA power forward is, in fact, the root cause of his continued limitations.

Part 1: How Josh Smith, the shooter, hurts Josh Smith, the offensive player.

Josh Smith has two problems as a field goal shooter: shot selection and small hands. The latter, which limits his effectiveness when attempting to finish around the rim, compounds the eminently correctable damage of the former.

Scroll to the bottom of this link to to see that Josh Smith made a lower percentage of his two-point jump shots than any other player in the NBA (with at least 100 attempts). Despite this, Smith took 305 two-point jump shots. The uncomfortable fact of the matter is that this was, overall, a good jump shooting season for Josh Smith, both in terms of abstinence and success. He took fewer jump shots as a percentage of his field goal attempts than any other season in his career and posted the second-best eFG% (boosted by an near-career high 29.9 3PTFG%) on jump shots of his career.

TeamJump Shots/FGAeFG%


Though Smith should bear the brunt of the criticism for his shot selection he cannot bear it all. The Hawks play at a pace suited for their slower, older guards rather than their faster, younger frontcourt trio. Al Horford and Marvin Williams both have skills more adaptable to halfcourt game than does Smith who is unquestionably the most diminished of the trio when forced to face a set defense.

Furthermore, Mike Woodson runs the halfcourt offense through his older, slower guards most often by attempting to isolate them. This creates cascading problems for the halfcourt offense. First, keeping Josh Smith 20 feet from the basket, though it nominally spaces the floor, really just allows the opposing team to use Smith's defender to run at or hedge toward the ball without repercussion. This stymies the initial offense and, too often, results in Smith receiving the ball outside his range with little time left on the shot clock, staring two bad options (shoot or penetrate into traffic) in the face.

Part 2: How Josh Smith largely forfeits the benefit of the doubt.

Now, all that being said, one must also account for Smith's unwillingness to cut into space/toward the basket as the initial offensive set stalls and his diminishing impact on the offensive glass as contributing factors in his offensive struggles.


The league average OR% for teams last season was 26.7%. Not adjusting for position, that makes the league average OR% for a player 5.3%. A player as athletic and unguarded as Smith certainly ought to make a greater impact on the offensive glass.

This is where excuses for Smith break down. One, at times, wishes to be sympathetic to Smith for the circumstances of his mis-use and, perhaps, some of his terrible shot attempts do come as a result of frustration from not being used in a way that maximizes* his physical gifts but, at the same time, Smith does not make the necessary effort to maximize his gifts in ways under his complete control.

*Though, if he were a better defensive rebounder that would help create more transition opportunities for the Hawks.

This lack of effort manifests itself even more obviously during his incessant whining to officials over slights both real and perceived which has evolved from an irritant into a fixation that costs his teams the equity of five-on-five possessions on an increasingly regular basis.

Part 3: How Josh Smith plays above average defense from behind the beat.

Josh Smith opened the season by playing three brilliant defensive games. He consistently played good position defense without sacrificing the wonderful help defense for which he is popularly known. In the first quarter of the fourth game he severely sprained his ankle and missed the next month.

Upon his return, we got (if possible) a fuller understanding of how much his athleticism masked poor fundamental defensive skills, both physical and mental. It wasn't just that he couldn't block shots at his usual, excellent rate. Nor was it any secret that he's always been incapable of getting in a good defensive stance when isolated on the perimeter or that, off the ball, he tends to lose track of his responsibility while paying too much attention to the ball or that he prefers to chase the defensive rebound rather than blocking out a potential offensive rebounder. It was a revelation to see just how often and how easily Smith, temporarily robbed of the ability to recover from lazy footwork or a fruitless steal attempt, gets beat when defending a player with the ball in either mid-range or post position.

At full strength, Josh Smith can get away with getting beat as his ability to recover to block or alter a shot from behind creates a very real consideration for an offensive player. Watching him at less than full strength, one begins to believe that he's unprepared for, if not outright surprised by, almost every action on the court. This limitation both tempers one's hopes for him ever to become a franchise player and increases one's appreciation for his physical gifts. Josh Smith is so supremely athletic that playing against the best athletes in the world his athleticism stands out despite his inability to anticipate what's coming.

Part 4: How Josh Smith leaves a nagging doubt.

The nagging doubt that accompanies this renewed appreciation is that Josh Smith will struggle mightily to age gracefully thus bringing to three the number of 2008-09 Hawks' starters Rick Sund might be prudent to look to divest himself of sooner rather than later.


jrauch said...

To channel Dennis Green, he is who we think he is.

I know he's still young, but Smith's been in the league now for going on six years.
What we see, I think, is what we're going to get.

A freakish athletic specimen (whose skills will only decline in this area with time) paired with an astounding lack of basketball IQ.

He's not a gym rat that'll magically come back next year with an ability to shoot 80 percent from the line and bury threes with regularity. He'll continue to dribble the air out of the ball and do all the maddening things we'd expect.

Buy low, sell high seems appropriate. He may become the player we all want him to be, but I don't think it'll happen here in the ATL.

Jonathan said...

jrauch. without a doubt I agree. Especially with that last part if he ever improves it will be because he was motivated when he was traded from the team.

J.R. Smith came in the league the same year and his attitude problem was far greater and his minutes far lesser, but J.R. Smith is playing far greater at the things he is good at then the Josh Smith is at the things he is good at. (if that makes any sense)

shaheen said...

I agree, I think if a player doesn't improve in his first three to five seasons in the league, playing consistent minutes, he will never improve. This is because if the player really did want to get better and have the mentality to become the best they can be, they would be practicing their weaknesses each off-season. With six years under his belt, I too do not think Josh Smith will improve much the rest of his career.

Josh Bagriansky said...

Just a great piece. It's nice to read an opinion on the Hawks from someone who actually knows what he's talking about and done some research.

You hit the nail on the head with his defense. For all the talk on ESPN and the like about his poor shot selection, it's actually the defensive end where he took a step backwards.