Friday, May 21, 2010

2009-10 Season Review: Josh Smith

Josh Smith broke out, improving across the board on his injury-limited 2008-09 season, becoming an All-Star Game snub célèbre, finishing second in Defensive Player of the Year voting, and making the All-Defensive Second Team. Smith was central to the team's success. He and Al Horford were the only two Hawks who, when they were off the court, saw the team get outscored.

Smith got lots of attention, all of it positive, for attempting just seven three-point shots (most of them at the end of quarters) during the regular season. A career 26.6% three-point shooter, Smith had attempted at least 87 three-pointers in each of the four previous seasons.

Josh Smith3PTA/FGA

Smith also greatly increased the percentage of his field goal attempts which came at the rim* where he made 65.6% of his attempts.

Josh Smith%FGA (at rim)FG% (at rim)

*All that time spent at or near the rim also allowed Smith to take better advantage of both his passing and offensive rebounding skills. Smith set career highs in assists, assist rate, offensive rebounds, and offensive rebound rate.

Why then, did Smith's eFG% decline slightly (from 50.8% to 50.5%) from 2008-09 to 2009-10? Because Smith didn't actually reduce the number of jump shots he took by the degree the three-point attempt column of the box score suggests and, on the rare occasions those jump shots went in, none of them were worth three points.

Josh Smith%FGA (16' +)eFG% (16' +)

Smith made a largely cosmetic rather than a fundamental change to his shot selection. Even worse, he backslid on what progress he'd made in this regard in the Orlando series where (small sample size acknowledged) jump shots constituted more than 30% of his field goal attempts and less than half his field goal attempts came at the rim. This even though Smith made a typical 27.8% of his jump shots and 65.5% of his shots at the rim.

It's incumbent upon the next Hawks coach, whoever he may be, to succeed where Mike Woodson failed throughout his tenure. Smith must be convinced to embrace his gifts, maximize his strengths, acknowledge his weaknesses, and minimize his exposure of those weaknesses. Even the idea of Smith improving his jump shot is, at this point, a virtual dead end, given the more realistic and fundamental areas in which Smith can and should improve: his free throw shooting, his lateral movement when defending away from the basket, and not letting referee decisions impact his effort.

Josh Smith is unique, a devastating scorer and passer when he receives the ball in an area where he deserves the attention of one or more defenders but a complete offensive liability when he stands 20 feet from the basket. He's an outstanding, game-changing help defender (and has become a decent on-the-ball defender in the post) but a defensive liability when asked to defend in space or close out on perimeter shooters.

Josh Smith clearly cannot play small forward but he does not conform to the generic conception of a power forward, either. At 24, he faces two choices. He can continue to suppress his individuality in a futile attempt to fill a traditional role or he can consolidate his strengths, accept (and let go of) his weaknesses and make something new, something just for himself, and bend the game to his will. If he chooses the latter path, he'll have the opportunity to take a place alongside Bob Pettit and Dominique Wilkins in the history of this franchise.


Unknown said...

wow..i knew you appreciated Josh's skill set, but I didn't know you shared my belief that if harnessed correctly - he could be an all time Hawk great. Kudos to the On Point King!

rbubp said...

I think more than almost anything save consistently blocking out, lateral footwork, and free throw improvement, use of the right hand around the basket is the crucial next step in Smith's arsenal.

Also, pleas don't sleep on the man's passing skills. I have yet to see a better and more accurate long passer pretty much ever, and his passes in the half court are pretty nifty too. Considering how many assists he gets his TOs are very low for a big man.

It all speaks to the uniqueness of his talents, as noted. I'm convinced a summer of real work would return us a monster.

jrauch said...

He is absolutely maddening to watch, especially given is suprisingly self-aware post-game interviews.

He knows he's doing stupid things, yet does them anyway. He's one of more incredible frontcourt players in the NBA when he's on his game, but that depends on solely on the whims of whatever grabs him that night.

I worry too much about Al Harrington syndrome though. How much longer can we talk about potential when he's been in the league for nearly 7 years now. He is who we think he is, and I think its unrealistic to expect a bizarre, freakishly athletic hybrid of Tim Duncan and Bernard King to emerge from an offseason in a gym.

Matt DeFore said...

His indecision regarding the 16+ jump shot is the key weakness to address. Developing his right hand would be of great use, but not with his current mindset.

Penetrating to the 10 ft range followed by a jumper or a dish to an open teammate would greatly benefit this offense. Currently, we see mainly the 16+ jumper or the take to the rim..nothing in between.

CoCo said...

While we can all agree taking jump shots is not in Josh's best interest today, he needs to develop his jump shot. It's just that simple, like it or not. Especially if the Hawks get a legit center (like they just grow on trees) and move Al to the 4. While Al might be better, we'll lose something if Josh is incapable of shooting some kind of mid-range jumper. It's not ideal, but he's not going to stop shooting them, so let's just hope he works on shooting them better.