Stop shooting, Josh Smith!
By HUNTER KOSSODO
College Contributor Network
If you asked an NBA GM if they would take a player that does seemingly everything on the court well and only has one big flaw in their game, they would all say yes. No NBA player is perfect, and one hole can be hidden by good coaching and careful game planning, which would also allow the rest of his facets to shine.
What I'm getting to here is that it would take a pretty serious off the court incident for that team to outright waive that player without getting anything in return. That, or the NBA player in question flaunts his one limitation so brazenly and so often to the point that his team doesn't even want the headache anymore.
Josh Smith's fault is his shooting from distance, and he loves to shoot from distance.
Smith is one of the most perplexing careers of this decade. A player with the perfect skill set for a forward. He's fast and strong, an elite defender who can guard anyone on the floor and can blow past bigger defenders or bully smaller guys on offense. Think a prime Shawn Marion with jet engines attached to his legs.
Since we're talking about someone who plays as a hybrid small and power forward, we might as well compare him to the paragon of that archetype. Smith has had three seasons in his decade-long career in which he averaged over 15 points, eight rebounds, three assists and two blocks a game. LeBron James has had zero such seasons in his "One-Of-The-Greatest-Basketball-Players-To-Ever-Play-Basketball" career.
A decade is also a convenient measure of time because Smith has been in the league 10 years now, yet the career 27.8 percent three-point shooter still thinks it should be a weapon in his arsenal. It's disconcerting that a player that's been in the league so long hasn't yet stopped doing the one thing that he does terribly. It gets even weirder when in fact he did stop shooting threes, almost completely, for an entire season.
In the 2009-2010 season, Smith shot a total of seven three-pointers (and missed all of them). With his focus going towards attacking the paint, he shot a career-best 50.5 percent from the floor. It's not clear why he suddenly strayed from the three, he didn't get along well at all with head coach Mike Woodson so it's probably not from anything Woodson said to him.
Whatever it was that convinced Smith to stop taking threes, it didn't stick with him even past the regular season. After shooting seven threes in 81 regular season games, he shot six in 11 playoff games. The very next season Smith attempted 154 threes and made 51 of them.
If that last sentence made you queasy, don't even try to read this next one. Last season with the Detroit Pistons, Smith shot 265 crowd-displeasing three-pointers and missed 195 of them for a shooting percentage of a whopping 26.4 percent.
To put that in perspective, Smith was one of six players last season to attempt 3.4 threes a game. Of those six, only two shot lower than 36 percent from deep: Smith and Hawks center Pero Antic. At least Antic stayed above 30 percent.
There were two other NBA players last season that shared the same horrible 26.4 percent mark from deep along with Smith. Here they are: Michael Carter-Williams, a rookie point guard, and Phil Pressey, a rookie point guard.
There were 227 players in the entire Association that season who shot less than 30 percent from three-point range. Three of those 227 players attempted three or more threes a game (shame on you, Rajon Rondo and Jimmy Butler) but it was Smith who shot the worst percentage of the three.
But, in fairness, Detroit was a terrible fit for Smith. A team that envisioned starting Smith with Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond should have seen this coming. Even when the Pistons relegated Monroe to the bench and moved Smith to the four-spot, he still attempted at least one three-pointer more often than not.
Now Smith is in Houston where he should play power forward exclusively. Not that it seems to matter what position he plays anyway. Smith played a lot of minutes at power forward in Atlanta and Detroit, and both teams got sick of watching him launch three-pointers into the side of the rim.
If any team would've been able to convince Smith to keep his game in the paint, Houston was one of the unlikeliest. Telling a player to stop shooting threes is the most un-Daryl-Morey-like thing to do.
Can any of the players on the team dissuade Smith from venturing out to the three-point arc? Given how he plays, James Harden seems like the last person who would tell someone to stop shooting. Dwight Howard is usually the one getting yelled at, not the one doing the yelling.
In Smith's debut with the Rockets, he played a major role in an overtime win over the Memphis Grizzlies. He scored 21 points, grabbed eight boards, four off the offensive glass, and dished out three assists in 31 minutes.
He also shot twice from deep and missed 'em both, featuring a sweet air ball in the third quarter.
However in the fourth quarter, with the Rockets trailing by one with less than 1:30 left on the clock, Smith found himself near half-court with the ball in his hands. He was being tightly guarded by Vince Carter, and Smith dribbled hard at him to the three-point line.
At this point, just beyond the three-point arc, Smith hesitated for just a second. Instead of taking an ill-advised, go-ahead three just as he had 19 days prior against the Thunder, where he bricked the potential game-winner with five seconds left to play and down by two, he drove hard to the rim.
Carter, who almost seemed like he expected Smith to shoot it, had no chance at defending Smith's bruising physicality as he barreled to the hoop for an easy layup. It was as if Smith shot all those terrible threes throughout his career just so the one time his defender tried to anticipate it Smith could fool him, basically like a Peyton Manning naked bootleg.
Houston needs more of that Josh Smith, because for all the criticism Smith gets for his shot selection he possesses one of the widest skill sets of any player in this league. The Rockets have the talent to win a championship, they just need the tiger to change his stripes.
Hunter Kossodo is a junior at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. He is a rabid supporter of Boston sports having lived there for most of his life. Follow him on Twitter: @HKossodo