On Dec. 2nd I wrote that, “I think it’s pretty safe to say that if All-Star reserves were picked today, [Josh] Smith would once again be left off the team, and that it would elicit less controversy than it has the past two seasons.” At the time, Smith was shooting 22% on about six shot attempts per game outside the paint.
On Jan. 24th, All-Star reserves were announced. To the surprise of exactly nobody, Smith was not named. Smith himself, although he has since gone on his annual post-snub tear, barely said a word about it. He seemed resigned to what is apparently the prevailing attitude among reserve voters: “You keep chuckin’, we’ll keep snubin’.”
A closer look will show that a shooting slump by Smith coincided with a period from Jan. 4-19 during which the team lost eight of the nine contests in which Smith played. By the time the Hawks beat the Hornets on Jan 1st to get back to 10 games over .500, Smith had raised his percentage outside the paint to 29% for the season (54-for-186). Over Smith’s next nine games, he shot 24% outside the paint (13-for-54) on almost seven attempts per game. The only Hawks win during that stretch in which Smith appeared was Jan. 11th against the Jazz. The Hawks also beat the Nets on Jan. 16th but Smith missed the game due to suspension.
To date, Smith has raised his shooting percentage to 30% (96-for-316) outside the paint on 6.6 shot attempts per game. The Hawks presently rank 28th in the league in total shots attempted (about 80 per game). Thus, Smith’s 6.6 jumpers per game accounts for about 8% of the Hawks’ total offense for the season.
So who is responsible for Smith taking all these inefficient jumpers? Does Josh shoot jumpers because of his placement in Larry Drew’s offense? Or is Smith going rogue and defying Drew by drifting outside? It’s kind of like the chicken-or-the-egg argument because we really don’t know. We can only guess that the reasons behind the recent tension between Smith and Drew have something to do with shot selection.
If Smith’s suspension was a result of his refusal to play within the team concept, it may be time for him to go. But regardless of whether Smith has defied Drew or not, I will make the argument that Drew’s shortcomings as a coach make it time for him to go as well.
You will perhaps recall this quote from Larry Drew during Media Day:
I don’t think there is any question about Josh’s ability to be an All-Star. It’s up to me to try to get him there.
In 2009-10, the Hawks’ last season under Mike Woodson, Smith attempted only seven 3-pointers. Since then, he has attempted 373, over 100 per season. The fact that Woodson was able to curb Smith’s outside shooting shows that Smith is coachable when it comes to shot selection. The fact that Smith has shot over 100 3-pointers per season since Woodson departed indicates that Drew has either given Smith the green light or Smith isn’t listening to Drew. In either case, my opinion has not changed since March of last year when I wrote that Drew was the wrong choice.
Further, Smith’s shot selection is not solely to blame for the sense of disappointment many feel over the Hawks’ slide from 3rd to 6th in the Eastern Conference since Jan. 1st. Think about this. If Chicago and Indiana both lose tonight (unlikely, but work with me) and the Hawks win, Atlanta would be only one game out of 3rd in the East. Think about what a small margin it is between the disappointment the Hawks are feeling now and the elation the franchise would feel if it went to the All-Star break in 3rd place in the conference. The difference between disappointment and elation at this point is two or three losses.
So let’s look at some winnable games that the Hawks lost and consider how the outcome might have been different.
Nov. 9th vs. Miami
Jeff Teague went to the bench with 4 minutes to play in the 3rd and the Hawks trailing 64-62. When he returned with 8 minutes left in the game, the Hawks trailed 81-73. I once called Drew the “master extinguisher of the hot hand.” In this game, Lou Williams, Devin Harris and DeShawn Stevenson combined to play 63 minutes, shoot 2-for-16 and score 9 points. Anthony Morrow was 6-for-11 with 17 points. He played only 15 minutes.
Blame the loss on: Drew resting Teague, presumably for more important games down the road, and Drew placing Morrow in a season-long dog house.
Nov. 30th vs. Cleveland
Smith failed to box out Alonzo Gee, who put back a missed Dion Waiters 3-pointer with one second left to give the Cavs the win.
Blame the loss on: Smith for ball watching on Waiters’ shot and for having the worst +/- among the starters (-14) except DeShawn Stevenson (-15). The Hawks presently have a losing record, 8-9, with Stevenson in the starting lineup. Stevenson has started in almost half of the Hawks’ 22 losses.
Jan. 4th @ Detroit
This was the game where the Hawks lost that lovin’ feeling from the 20-10 start. The Hawks would lose 8-of-10 starting with this 1-point loss.
Blame the loss on: Smith for shooting 1-for-7 outside the paint and being the only starter with a negative +/- (-6). Equal blame can go to Drew for making rookie John Jenkins the first player off the bench. In just under seven minutes spanning the end of the first and start of the second quarter, the Hawks were outscored by 15 points with Jenkins (who finished -18) on the floor.
Jan. 27th @ New York
This one hurt the worst. After the buzz-killing stretch in early January that cost Smith a shot at an All-Star selection, the Hawks had a chance to pick up another quality win against a contending team. A win in New York might have flipped the entire conversation about the Hawks from disappointment to (once again) surprise team in the conference.
Blame the loss on: Drew, for twice sending Jannero Pargo in to run the offense when Devin Harris was available. During Pargo’s first stint, a tie became a 6-point deficit. During Pargo’s second stint, a 3-point deficit became an 8-point deficit. The Hawks lost by two.