I touched on Josh Smith’s slow start to this season in yesterday’s post, but I wanted to go into a little further detail on his struggles as we approach the first “third” mark of the season. First, a few caveats. Smith injured his ankle early in the season vs. the Raptors and as a result lost a lot of the rhythm he was able to develop in the first three games he was healthy for. Also, each starter’s numbers should have been expected to take a minor dip given the addition of Mike Bibby for a full season. Whereas Anthony Johnson averaged 6.7 points/game, Bibby is throwing down 15.9 points/game. That’s around a 9 point spike in production, some of which inevitably results in a dropoff in the scoring of the four remaining starters.
(LACK OF) SHOOTING: With those two premises in mind, Smith’s overall production has nevertheless been a disappointment after inking a 5 year/$58 million contract. Smith’s field goal percentage is down significantly, from close to 46% to 42.6%. His free throw shooting has also followed suit, dropping from 71% to 67.1%. This all has resulted in a drop in his scoring output, which has fell from 19.4 points/40 minutes to 15.3 points/40 minutes. This is an alarming drop even for a player whose not exactly known for his offensive prowess.
As an observer, a few changes in Smith’s game have been noticeable. Early in the season and even at times recently, Smith has settled for long outside jumpers and three point shots. Smith is anything but a gifted outside shooter, and opposing team’s game plan to let him take the longer outside shots. Smith’s athleticism should allow him to attack the rim at will; instead, however, he’s settled and it has cost him. The power forward’s propensity for the three point shot is maddening in itself because of his horrific shooting percentage (27%) from downtown. In no instance should Smith take this shot – not even if there isn’t a defender in sight.
Smith also has looked lost and uncomfortable in some of the Hawks’ offensive sets. At times it appears he’s not sure if he should shoot, drive, or swing the ball. Typically this results in a long jumper as referenced above or an awkward drive to the hoop where the ball is stripped. For lack of a better phrase, Smith looks “out of the flow” on offense. If his struggles continue for another ten games, Hawks fans have a reason to be concerned. As of right now, its safe to assume Smith is still trying to assimilate himself after missing some serious time.
REBOUNDING: What’s more alarming in Smith’s statistical output this season is his drop in rebounding, a sheer “effort” category which the 23 year old should easily control given his size and athleticism. Smith’s rebounds/40 minutes has dropped from 9.3 to 8.4 and his overall rebound rate has dropped from 13.5 to 12.2 (rebound rate is the percentage of missed shots a player rebounds). There’s really not one thing in particular one can point to for this reduction. Marvin Williams has increased his rebound rate (9.6 to 10.3) but Al Horford’s has dropped dramatically (18 to 14.9), thus leaving more missed shots for rebounds. It’s possible Smith’s effort has reduced this season since he is no longer in a contract year. It’s also possible that Smith’s ankle has been limited. What’s more probable than the both of these, however, is Smith’s positioning. Smith sometimes gets in a poor spot on the floor coming off a missed shot, leading to tougher rebounds. It’s not just Smith but also Marvin Williams, who should also own the boards. Whatever the reason is, it’s clear Smith’s rebounding has suffered this season.
BLOCKED SHOTS: Finally, although Smith will soon be fifth in the league in blocks (he’s currently not eligible given his game’s played), his blocked shot numbers have taken a dip as well. Smith has gone from 2.8 to 1.9 blocks/game, another alarming drop-off given that his playing time has pretty much remained the same. Perhaps opponents are not attacking Smith the way they used to now that the secret’s out on his ability to block shots. The more likely theory, however, is that opponents have started to figure out Smith’s methodology for blocking shots. Smith gives a ton of ground up on defense and tends to back pedal in hopes of eliciting a shot to block. While he still gets a ton of blocks this way, its much less than before as offensive players have found a way to get their shots off.
THE VERDICT: Smith’s production is down across the board. There’s no other way to say it. But at this point, he has to be given the benefit of the doubt given his injury early in the season. If Smith’s production is still the same two months from now, however, it may be time to worry. I have heard $58 million has a way of bringing out a sense of complacency in the best of us. Especially when compared to trying to play for your next paycheck.