From Tim Povtak, the former Orlando Sentinel basketball man now AOL Fanhouse pundit:
It's not veteran Joe Johnson, their best player who got the sweetest new contract in the NBA this summer. And it's not young Al Horford, their second-best player who followed with that $60 million extension.
It's not the two NBA All-Stars who will determine if the Atlanta Hawks can take the next step and learn to play with the serious contenders in the Eastern Conference.
It's enigmatic Josh Smith, the talented and versatile but still temperamental forward who holds the key to the Atlanta Hawks.
And that's probably not a good sign.
So much talent, but still too much inconsistency. At least when it comes to challenging Boston, Miami and Orlando in the East.
The article itself won't say much that we already don't know.
1. Josh Smith is talented.
2. Josh Smith is maddeningly inconsistent with his focus.
3. Josh Smith is a good dude who believes in the team concept---just not always in action.
Still, for a long time now----as Smith says, "since I came into the league"....the day in/day out effort of Smith has been well documented by all who cover the team, but still relatively secret in the NBA as a whole. See Josh Smith's name in any national article, and you'll likely get some kind of surface level "Wow" piece that doesn't get to the bottom of the issue: That Smith can take the Hawks into a game and he can take them out.
Soon, maybe, everybody else will start seeing why---neither Mike Woodson nor to this point Larry Drew has seen fit to mess with the minutes that Smith sees on the floor, regardless of whether he is giving you one of his 10 best games of the year, 10 worst, or the other 62 that fall in the middle.
Without such direction/structure/boundaries, the onus of responsibility is only on the shoulders of a mid-twenties super talent who hasn't ever shown that he is fully willing to submit to the tasks that would take him higher in his career.
Much like folks have wanted to see extremely talented players play to the best of their abilities, but fall short due to their own complacency or other decisions, I believe what we're seeing with Smith is what we'll get: A talented, exciting player who can do a lot of things on the court and, hopefully, does more good than bad on a given night.
Seems like the national media is catching on...and the time for Smith to change that meme is running out.
Smith scoffed at the notion that he - more than anyone else -- holds the key, that Johnson and Horford and Marvin Williams and Mike Bibby are steady and consistent with their efforts and performance. And that his rise or fall is what will define the season in Atlanta.
"They've been saying that since I came into the league. That's what's been in my head since I got here,'' he said. "I don't let the hype get to me. I just want to play hard and be active, and if we're successful, the individual stuff with come. Sure, I could be an All-Star. There's no reason why you can't have three if you're winning big. And that's our only goal, to win big this season. I just want to help us get there.''
Update: Hoopinion does his usual fantastic job of breaking down Smith's shot selection and how this relates to his performance thus far and potentially moving forward. Not to spoil the analysis, but it's not all that encouraging, unless you believe that Smith will actually get even better at his new found shooting success.