Josh Smith nearly averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds in the 2011-12 season. He was already known as a great defender and with Al Horford and an array of three-pointer shooters, it appeared as if he’d be able to play to his strengths more than he had ever had in his career.
Smoove was also in a contract year and still had the stigma of being snubbed from previous All-Star games. Those things seemed to be coming together in a perfect storm to create what should’ve been a great year from a rising player…
But it crashed and burned.
It all started at media day. In Joe Johnson’s place were Kyle Korver, Anthony Morrow, DeShawn Stevenson, and John Jenkins. Jeff Teague, Devin Harris, and Al Horford could all play on the perimeter and let Josh dominate on the block.
Instead, Smoove nicknamed himself “mid-range shawty”. Oops.
What we got was 674 jumpers, which accounts for more than half of Smith’s field goal attempts. Smith took a career-high 201 three-point attempts and barely broke the 30% shooting mark from that range. To top it all off, Josh apparently forgot how to shoot free-throws, putting up a career-worst 52% from the stripe. So much for all of that money he was hoping for…
There’s still some good stuff in that stat sheet. As he’s always been, Josh was an extremely effective passer out of the post and off of drives, helping fuel the Hawks’ 37% three-point shooting with passes that only LeBron James matched among forwards. (even if he took that much away from his own shots)
And, of course, there was what he did on defense, which is still an underrated ability of his. Per MySynergySports, Smith only allowed 0.65 PPP in isolation, and 0.71 PPP in the post, both of which rate near the top of the league. And of course, Smoove wasn’t doing his defense against bench warmers; he only took on the best of the best and did so at every position on the floor. He usually had to take on guys like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Blake Griffin for the entirety of the game. Not only that, but he was often forced onto the hot-hand, regardless of position. This meant that we often saw him checking Monta Ellis, Kobe Bryant, and DeMarcus Cousins for extended stretches of time, often to favorable results for the Hawks. Let’s be honest, the only player that matched that defensive resume for this season was… LeBron James.
However, even with that praise, this will always be known as the season that Josh Smith lost his team. This WAS his team, in case you forgot. It was up until the first game against the Brooklyn Nets in January, A.K.A. Joe Johnson’s return to Philips Arena.
Josh Smith didn’t play that night. He was suspended for conduct detrimental to the team, where he was supposedly kicked out of a practice the day before the Nets game and the day after the team had lost to the Bulls, 97-58. From that point on, the Hawks became, without a doubt, Al Horford’s team. Yes, Al was almost fully recovered from his injury by that point, but that was when his torrid stretch of averaging almost 20 points and 10 rebounds a game started. And to be perfectly honest, the team looked better running through Horford and Smoove looked better playing off of Al than the other way around.
It’s hard to say that he was better in the playoffs. Sure, his defense on Paul George helped the Hawks win a couple of games, but otherwise, his shooting percentages went further south. He was able to take some advantage of being guarded by George in the post, but eventually that stopped being fully successful because it meant Johan Petro was on the floor. Personally, with Zaza and Lou Williams, I think the Hawks take the Pacers out. Without them, though? Not a chance.
Smoove will always be a Hawk in my mind, but everything points to his days in an Atlanta uniform being numbered. This isn’t another trade deadline where the Hawks will find out that they’re not going to get equal value for Josh; his contract is up and it looks like Smith wants more money than GM Danny Ferry wants to deal out. Sure, Smith could return, but is it not better for both parties to separate at this point? This isn’t 2008 anymore where the Hawks have an entertaining player with tons of potential; Smoove is in his prime now and it looks like he’s a piece that doesn’t fit with the Ferry-Budenholzer-Horford puzzle.
It’s been a good show, Josh, but sometimes that show needs to pack up and seek out a new audience.
BEST GAME: If you’re looking for a great game from J-Smoove, the number one requirement is that it needs to fill up the entire stat sheet. This 95-86 victory over the Hornets fits the bill perfectly. Smith had 23 points on 11-for-20 shooting, grabbed 13 rebounds, dished out seven dimes, and managed to come up with three steals and four blocks. This was one of 41 3-block/3-steal games Josh has had in his career, which is most in the NBA by far since he came into the league.
BEST HIGHLIGHT: I just want to point out that he got fouled, too.
AVERAGE GAME GRADE: 6.8/10
SEASON GRADE: 7.5/10