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State of the Hawks power forward

I was there.

For the low point that is. Making the trek up i-85, past the empty Lake Hartwell, through the speed traps of Anderson, SC, ignoring the multitude of outlet malls, up to Charlotte to watch the Hawks vs. the Bobcats. And for the second straight year my fandom was left crushed like the aftermath of a fistfight between an anvil and a balloon. For all intensive purposes, I knew home court was lost.

Then the team won seven in a row. Ahh the 2008-2009 Atlanta Hawks.

I was not alone though hitting rock bottom in the Queen City. The Charlotte game was also the low point of the year for Josh Smith. After a shouting match with Mike Woodson, he never saw the floor in the second half. I remember my friend clamoring for Smith. Where was the guy? He was 6-10 from the floor in the first half.

But like most of January the month before, the Inspector had not sniffed the smell of effort on the defensive end. The Bobcats were getting anything they wanted. I was crying and drinking and crying some more. It looked like Josh Smith was done not just for that second half, but the year. He was going to shoot long jumpers whenever he wanted (3 that first half) and dunk the ball and that is about it. For someone as athletic as Josh, that little bit of effort can put up decent numbers, but it was clear to anyone watching those games that Josh Smith was no longer either interested in trying for this coach or interested in trying period.

But don't hate to soon

Yet somewhere in that screaming match that became public, Josh Smith realized he did not have a good reason for poor effort. I don't know whether to give credit to Woodson or acknowledge that Smith has more self awareness than the zero percent I often him credit for, but he came out the next three games and went 19-12, 13-13, and 22-12 in points and rebounds. He said he was a new man and played like it.

Now I am not saying the Hawks go as Josh Smith does, but he leads the team in athleticism, poor decisions, and immaturity by a large margin and the combination of the three makes his level of effort like an umbilical cord for the other players and the fans. When Flip Murray puts up a bad shot the crowd does not moan in horror and fans do not get spill their beer excited excited over a Mo Evans dunk, but the crowd does both of these things for Josh Smith. Check the quotes from just about any game. Joe goes off and it was "Joe being Joe." Marvin Williams plays well and "stepped up and was huge for us." Al Horford goes for 20 and 10 and he was "a beast" that night. But when the Inspector comes real, quotes are dropped like "inspirational" and "feed off the energy." Josh Smith has the ability to make people better without dishing out a single assist. 

Ok hate

Of course, Josh gives us plenty of reasons not to idolize him. No one backs Josh Smith 100 percent. I don't even think Josh Smith likes how Josh Smith plays all the time. That sour puss face is not just reserved for refs. In Bret's most excellent (well they are all excellent but this one print out and frame good) season review of Smith over at Hoopinion, he points to two factors that seem the easiest for a player to control and yet ones that Josh Smith apparently cannot quite figure out, shot selection and offensive rebounding.

Scroll to the bottom of this link to to see that Josh Smith made a lower percentage of his two-point jump shots than any other player in the NBA (with at least 100 attempts). Despite this, Smith took 305 two-point jump shots. The uncomfortable fact of the matter is that this was, overall, a good jump shooting season for Josh Smith, both in terms of abstinence and success. He took fewer jump shots as a percentage of his field goal attempts than any other season in his career and posted the second-best eFG% (boosted by an near-career high 29.9 3PTFG%) on jump shots of his career.


Now, all that being said, one must also account for Smith's unwillingness to cut into space/toward the basket as the initial offensive set stalls and his diminishing impact on the offensive glass as contributing factors in his offensive struggles.

Season OR%
04-05 7.9%
05-06 8.0%
06-07 7.4%
07-08 6.6%
08-09 6.5%

The league average OR% for teams last season was 26.7%. Not adjusting for position, that makes the league average OR% for a player 5.3%. A player as athletic and unguarded as Smith certainly ought to make a greater impact on the offensive glass.

Smith played within himself better than he ever has this year. He shot a career best from the floor. Went to the hole more often. Even made more of his long jumpers, and yet the thing that it seems easiest for both him and the coach to improve on is left, like his potential, unfulfilled. And it just sits there and mocks us. It makes us yell and blog and throw things at the television. All because it is so hard to understand. And I for one am tired of going to Brand Smart for new tvs. I feel like I am watching Lost with Josh Smith. Just show us the whole package already! Oh the secret behind shot selection. That won't be told until season six sorry.

Looking Forward

As long as the Hawks do not trade Smith (which I know some on here would not mind seeing), the Hawks are actually in pretty good position at power forward. I am perfectly fine with trusting Rick Sund that Al Horford can be a starting center in the league because any lack of production so far in his career has nothing to do with his position. That being said, signing a player of Zaza Pachulia's level allows Horford to spell Josh for spurts at power forward. I of course would love to see the Hawks follow Sekou Smith's recommendation and go find a true back up power forward like Charlie Villanueva and resign Zaza. Two legit backups in the front court positions?!? In the unlikely event that happened I do not honestly know what I would do....actually I would probably buy a Charlie V. jersey.

But without more of a pipe dream than even a dream, let us assume the Atlanta Spirit are looking to spend as little money as possible. Outside the very top of the draft, no power forward is really worth a look considering the other needs of the team, and I can do well with Josh Smith who should/could/will/maybe/might not be an all-star at the power forward position and the ability to go small or big there with Marvin Williams and Al Horford.

Final Thoughts

Blind loyalty and adoration for Josh Smith is dumb. You do not see many players with the attitude of a middle schooler win NBA championships. But like any good enigma, sooner or later, you are going to look foolish if you downplay Smith's skill and importance to the team. So is the power forward position in the best of hands? Probably not. Is it in good hands? Yes. And who knows if Josh Smith can grow up just a bit. Season six could be one where a lot of beer is accidentally spilled in celebration at Phillips Arena.

Until then, Brand Smart thanks you for your business.