Josh Smith: Best Perimeter Defender?

Bo Churney —  January 30, 2013

So, can we stop this “Josh Smith only blocks shots” meme that some of you are still perpetuating?

According to Bradford Doolittle, who uses a variety of statistical metrics to determine this, Josh ranks as the best perimeter defender in the league, ahead of known defensive stalwarts like Andre Iguodala and LeBron James.

The article linked above is an insider piece, so I’ll provide just a snippet of what Doolittle says about Josh.

“Smith is certainly athletic enough to guard any position on the floor, though it’s questionable whether he is a true perimeter stopper because of the amount of time he spends at power forward and guarding the rim. According to my system, he has played 33 percent of his minutes at small forward this season. He ranks sixth on a per-possession basis against isolations and second in steal-plus-block percentage.

Even Doolittle says that this may be skewed a bit because of how much time Josh spends on other bigs, but this is clearly an affirmation of something that should be obvious: Josh Smith is really, really good at defense.

When asked about this recognition, coach Larry Drew was in complete agreement.

“His ability to defend out on the floor is pretty amazing. As a player back in the days when I was playing, and even my coaching days, I think I can count on one hand the number of guys that have that ability to defend all five positions the way he can.”

While Josh hasn’t always been this good on the perimeter, his progress this in this area has allowed the Hawks to play efficiently on defense without a “true small forward”. Smoove played great defense on LeBron is the matchups against Miami, and was really good against Carmelo on Sunday if you focus on the entire game and not just New York’s last play. (people quickly forgot the three-play sequence in the 2nd quarter where Josh forced Anthony into three missed jumpers)

Also, Doolittle uses Synergy’s defensive numbers, but he doesn’t even mention how good Josh’s are. In isolation plays, Josh is forcing opponents into 28.6% shooting, a turnover rate of 20%, and a PPP (points per possession) of 0.52.

For those of you who don’t understand points per possession, consider this: the Hawks play at an average of about 91 possessions per game. So, in theory, if an opponent just went at Josh Smith in isolations for the entire game, they would score… 47 points.

Now, Synergy has it’s flaws in that categorization of plays can be difficult, but the theory behind it is solid; look at every single play, and determine what happens. Simple as that, and the outcomes favor Josh a helluva lot more than they take away from him.

Bo Churney

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3 responses to Josh Smith: Best Perimeter Defender?

  1. Josh’s defending at the 3 the past couple seasons speaks to his capacity to improve as a player. Three or four years ago, he was a dreadful defender in space. He isn’t anymore. Whether it’s primarily down to pure self-improvement or more regular playing time at the 3, there’s plenty of credit due Smith and Larry Drew for expanding his defensive usefulness.

    If only either of those avenues produced similar results on the other end of the floor.

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