Friday, November 19, 2010 Cunningham: Should Smoove really keep shooting jumpers?

Michael Cunningham on the second-most* pressing question for the Atlanta Hawks right now:
When L.D. keeps saying he isn’t strictly against Josh shooting jumpers and only had a problem with the timing of them, I figured it was just a tactical ploy. I assumed he wasn’t just coming out and saying “Smoove can’t shoot” because, knowing Smoove’s prideful streak, that could be the surest way to make him jack up even more bad shots.

But maybe L.D. was just quicker to see what the rest of us couldn’t.

“When you watch him shoot, he has a nice stroke,” Drew said. “He really does. His lower body is in sync with his upper body when he shoots the ball. He’s got good rotation on his follow-through. My whole thing with him is when he takes them. I don’t want them early in the clock, and I don’t want him camped out on the perimeter when it calls for him to dive to the basket and all of a sudden it swings around the perimeter and he’s out there.”

That’s the concern with Smoove’s growing confidence in his jump shot. He’s been very efficient scoring around the basket in his career, and the Hoopdata numbers show that so far this season he’s taking a whopping 2.4 less of those shots per game and more attempts beyond 10 feet.

But there could be a long-term benefit to the approach. Right now opponents still are pretty much giving Josh jump shots. If it gets to the point where they must respect his ability to score from out there, wouldn’t it eventually allow him to drive to the hole more effectively and either score or set up his teammates, which he’s very good at doing?

“That’s what really helps me open up my whole game, when I am able to knock them down, not just shooting them,” Josh said. “I’m pump-faking and driving to the hole. I’m such a good passer, I find my teammates open on the perimeter. It opens up the dribble drive and definitely opens the cuts for my teammates.”

Said L.D.: “A four would definitely have to get out and play him. He does have the ability in midrange where he is one bounce and to the basket. With Al stretching the bigs out now, if Josh gets to the point where they have to respect him out on the perimeter, it opens up weakside backdoor cuts for us as well.”
There are a lot of ifs to acknowledge when discussing Josh Smith's early-season jump shooting prowess but the most important, to my mind, is that an improved jump shot helps Josh Smith and the Hawks only if Smith uses it to augment his devastating effectiveness in the paint. I don't think anyone expects Smith to improve as shooter to the point he's shooting 65% (as he does at the rim) from the perimeter so he won't get better if just trades any of those shots at the rim for jumpers.

It's also important not to overlook Smith's early improvement (over the last two seasons) at the free throw line. He's back to making 69% of his free throws, as he did over his first four seasons. Now, he just needs to get to the line more often to take advantage of his resumption of a previously established talent level.

Nor should one overlook the value of having a beat writer who makes good use of his access to the team and the Hoopdata website.

*The most pressing question being when Al Horford will start getting more minutes.


Unknown said...

Josh taking more outside shots at lower efficiency relative to his inside scoring but at a higher efficiency than last year might be TS%-neutral for himself, but what about for the rest of the team?

I'd have to imagine that the improved floor spacing from opposing PFs having to play outwards would open up wider lanes for, say, Marvin after a catch from a Josh drive.

Bronnt said...

Mike, right now, I'd imagine it's less than neutral from a team standpoint. Teams are just giving Josh that open jumpshot because the report on him for years has been "play back because he can't knock down the jumper and will take it if you encourage him." So he's not spacing the floor offensively.

Even if he does, the other side of that is that while he's playing more on the perimeter he's not in a position to contribute to offensive rebounding. He's such a good driver and passer that he really needs to be doing what you suggest more rather than taking more jumpshots.

Right now, Josh is taking about 12 shots per game (not counting the attempts which result in his drawing a foul, which occur mainly around the basket). Half of those 12 are outside of 10 feet. He could continue to spread the floor if 1/3 of his attempts were from in closer, leaving him still four jumpshots per game. I'd also be happier of he eliminated many of his shots from 16-23 because that's the worst shot in basketball, and attempted more of those from beyond the arc or used open space to drive to the rim for a higher percentage opportunity.