Thursday, September 17, 2009

Josh Smith: 2009-10 Breakout Candidate

Now that Josh Smith has renounced the three-point shot, the discussion about what this means for 2009-10 centers on whether the relatively small number of three-pointers Smith attempts will be replaced by shots he's more likely to make.

First let's look at Smith's overall shooting percentages. The graph below shows Smith's career eFG% and TS% at the conclusion of each of his five seasons.

(click on graph to enlarge)

Without eliminating, either by pronouncement or action, the three-point field goal Smith has steadily improved both his eFG% and TS% over the last three seasons. How so? By reducing the percentage of his field goal attempts which are two-point jump shots.

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Reducing the two-point jump shots helps because, though Smith makes a higher percentage of those than his three-point attempts, the difference is not enough to overcome the difference in value between the two shots.

(click on graph to enlarge)

For his career, Smith has made 36.2% of 1748 two-point jump shots, providing the Hawks with 0.72 points per possession (before accounting for offensive rebounding*), and 27% of his three-point shots, providing the Hawks with 0.81 points per possession (before accounting for offensive rebounding). Over five seasons, Smith attempting a three-point jumper has been the lesser of two evils for the Hawks.

*The value of all the offensive rebounding opportunities created by Smith's missed jumpers is debatable, though likely marginal. Over the last two seasons the Hawks have had a higher offensive rebounding rate when Smith is off the court than when he is on the court which would, I believe, support the argument against Smith taking low-percentage shots.

In the interests of thoroughness, let me digress by showing that the upward trend in Smith's True Shooting Percentage (TS%) is not fueled by his free throw shooting. Smith's FT Rate has been remarkably consistent throughout his career...

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...despite fluctuations in his FT%.

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Yes, Smith's 58.8% shooting from the foul line last season reduced his career FT% by almost two-and-a-half percentage points. A return to competence at the free throw line would, by itself, significantly increase Smith's offensive production and efficiency, though not as much as turning as many of his jump shots into closer two-point attempts. Smith made a career-high 64.4% of non-jump shot two-point attempts last year. Smith's increases in eFG% and TS% stems directly from simultaneously taking and making more non-jump shots over the last three years.

(click on graph to enlarge)

Sharp-eyed readers might notice that the lower bounder of this graph is 52% where the upper boundary of the two- and three-point field goal percentage graph is 40%.

Smith has used more than half of his career field goal attempts on shots he's made (collectively) 34% of time and less than half of his career field goal attempts on shots he's made 57% of the time. Shot selection that poor provides Smith with ample opportunity for improvements in both scoring and efficiency, as does last season's inexplicably poor free throw shooting. Furthermore, the ankle injury that cost Smith 13 games likely contributed to Smith posting career lows as an offensive rebounder and shot blocker (both per minute and per opportunity) and failing to match his career average on the defensive glass.

It's difficult to identify an area of his game where Smith is more likely to regress than he is to improve in 2009-10. If he's really beginning to the see the light regarding his own strengths and weaknesses he could make the leap from talented but maddening player to legitimate All-Star.

Sources: 82games,


Drew Ditzel said...

first, this post is awesome. thanks for the hard work. but i am a little confused. and i say that not as a segue to prove a point but to say i am actually confused because i might not be reading your graphs right.

josh smith fairly drastically cut his three point attempts by 06-07 to 07-08. he basically shot the same number of fg (only difference being he played in nine more games in 07-08. but increased his fg% by almost 2 percentage points. as far as i can tell that is a pretty dramatic jump in the true shooing too.

so would that mean less threes the better to a point? or less threes are better? or anything but long two pointers? help me Bret!

also, love the last paragraph. you were borderline positive there.

Bret LaGree said...


The graphs show his career average at the end of each of the five seasons he's played rather than his year-to-year percentages. So even though he cut his three-point attempts dramatically from 06-07 to 07-08 his percentage of three-point attempts (3PTA/FGA) from '04 through '08 wasn't as dramatically different as his percentage of three-point attempts from '04 through '07.

I chose that path once I realized that he's made gradual and encouraging improvement in his efficiency over the last three seasons even though he's taken more three-pointers (bad) and two-point jump shots (worse) than anyone with a vested interest would wish.

I'm very positive about Smith this season, with the caveat that his improvements might be masked to some degree by the number of shots Jamal Crawford takes. If Smith becomes more efficient he might join Horford and Williams in being efficient with a low usage rate. I doubt anyone will fail to notice if Smith recovers his pre-2009 rebounding and shot blocking rates.

CoCo said...

Graphs!!!!! I love it Brett! I like Drew am confused (about it all in general) but you know I'm not a stats kinda girl. I still appreciate the hard work you put into this though. lol

M said...

hopefully the giant gash on his finger doesnt affect his shooting.. apparently he sliced his finger on the rim yesterday