Tuesday, July 19, 2011
2010-11 Season Review: Josh Smith
In retrospect, it shouldn't have been a surprise that Josh Smith could manage to demonstrate the ability to defend the 3* and often achieve mediocrity as a jump shooter yet, overall, be less valuable than he had the previous season. One hopes that 2010-11 doesn't mark the point at which the Hawks, Hawks fans or even Smith himself gives up on Josh Smith's potential. It may, though, mark the point at which Smith stopped being judged against his perceived potential but against his peers.
*It remains to be seen how much of Atlanta's defensive success with Smith at the 3 was due to his improved defending on the perimeter and how much was due to Jason Collins, human impediment to post scoring, (that many of Smith's minutes at the 3 that came without Collins on the floor were not Smith/Horford/Pachulia but Smith/Powell/X combinations further complicates the query) but Smith looked far better than he had in past seasons and the Hawks derived obvious value from having the choice to play Smith, defensively, away from the basket.
Josh Smith, in almost any mood, is a very good NBA player. For some, that may never be enough and the allocation of blame between player, coaches and organization will long outlive Smith's playing career. More importantly, all evidence suggests that, for Smith, it is enough.
Smith's work on his shooting stroke paid off at the free throw line, where he made a career-best 72.5% of his charities (league average: 76.3%), from 10-15 feet, from 16-23 feet and from beyond the three-point line where he made a five-year* personal best from each distance.
*as far back as Hoopdata goes
Smith attempted 482 shots outside of 16 feet last season. To put that in perspective, Al Horford, whose predilection for jump shots is a legitimate concern, attempted 377 shots outside of 16 feet. Smith attempted one-and-a-half more long jumpers a game than Horford despite making them 42.6% rather than 53.6% of the time. Factor in that Smith is a far better player with his back to the basket than Horford, that Smith's assist rate also declined this season as opponents did not have to guard him on more than six possessions each game and his offensive rebound rate suffered from his on-going affair with his jump shot, if not also from the amount of weight he carried.
Smith's weight, as much as his stubbornness, limits optimism about his long-term potential. Once he can no longer be an impactful defender from behind the beat, much of Smith's value will disappear. Luckily for the Hawks, Smith is only under contract for two more seasons and at a reasonable price for a marginal All-Star. That's not to say the Hawks shouldn't trade Smith. Given the organization's lack of cap flexibility and assets, they should consider any reasonable trade offers for any player on the roster. The Hawks shouldn't trade Smith out of frustration or because they've never hired an experienced head coach to try to get through to him. Even when he's actively undermining the many good things he does by taking four hundred and eight-two jump shots in 77 games he is either the best or second-best player under the team's control. And, because of the aforementioned lack of cap flexibility and assets, the Hawks are extremely unlikely to replace or improve upon Smith's production unless they trade him for someone or someones better. If that offer doesn't materialize, the Hawks should keep Smith.
Smith's impending, 2013 free agency, following his age 27 season, should be seen as an opportunity. Either the Hawks can let Smith go, having enjoyed his peak and use the cap space they could have by then to attempt to rebuild on the fly or, and one cannot count out this possibility, Smith proves many wrong again by consolidating his strengths, playing at his ideal weight and making the leap from fringe to certain All-Star.
Considering the Hawks have panicked at the prospect of losing both Mike Bibby and Marvin Williams to free agency in recent years (and might well do the same with Jamal Crawford once the NBA resumes operations), the plausibility of this unsentimental approach to owning Smith's current rights without being yoked to his putative decline years is a fair question.