Monday, October 25, 2010

2010-11 Season Preview: Josh Smith

This time last year, Josh Smith was a candidate to breakout. And breakout he did, finishing second in voting for Defensive Player of the Year, making the All-Defensive Second Team, and setting career highs in assist and offensive rebound rate. The latter two accomplishments were due, in no small part to Smith forgoing the three-point shot and putting himself in position to take advantage of his offensive talents more often.

The equally encouraging and frustrating fact, though, is that Smith did not fully embrace either his offensive limitations or his offensive talents. It's encouraging because it means there remains room for improvement. It's frustrating because the evidence from this season's exhibition games suggests both that he will not conclude that his inability to make jump shots means he should stop attempting them and that no one in the organization will make him stop taking jump shots.

Almost one quarter of Josh Smith's field goal attempts (three attempts per game) came from outside of 16 feet in 2009-10. He made 27.9% of those shots. This pre-season, 48.2% of Smith's attempts (almost four attempts per game) came from outside of 16 feet. He made 29.6% of those shots. Josh Smith cannot make these shots and should not, given his gifts for finishing at the rim and passing, be permitted to waste possessions on them.

Which isn't to say he should never shoot a jump shot. That's not realistic. Plus, the occasional jump shot, however ineffective, would make his use of the pump fake in the high post effective. Nor should Smith be discouraged from working on his shot. Ideally, that work would be channeled away from whatever need he has to prove himself as a practitioner of the game's least efficient shot and into improving his free throw shooting. Were Smith to return even to the below-average 70% free throw shooting he managed his first four seasons in the league, he'd add about half-a-point per game to his scoring average. That, combined with better shot selection could do great things for the team's offensive efficiency.

Defensively, Smith figures to be as important to the team as ever both because of his own abilities and the deficiencies of the team's frontcourt reserves. Were the front office to acquire a competent, dedicated backup at the power forward position or were a head coach to use Zaza Pachulia as a third big man in lieu of a competent reserve power forward, Smith's playing time could conceivably be held accountable to his decision-making on the offensive end. If the alternative to Josh Smith wasting possessions quixotically is Josh Powell playing more, it will be difficult for the team to survive Smith spending time on the bench even if one assumes that such discipline would take.

Ultimately it rests on Smith himself to maximize his abilities, accept his limitations, and become the sui generis player he might.

1 comment:

jrauch said...

I've given up hope we'll ever see Josh ever make what Bill Simmons likes to call "the leap."

Given he's now starting his 7th year in the league, I'm inclined to think that he is who we think he is -- apologies to Dennis Green.

He has immense physical gifts, but a startling lack of any refinement to his game. No repetoire of post moves that a power forward should have, and a continued obsession with this notion that he's somehow a perimeter player. His effort is maddeningly inconsistent from night-to-night, and he's getting worse at the foul line.

I think your preview is pretty spot on Bret, but I'd contend that I think Josh's improvements are largely going to be incremental from here on out.