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Greatest of All-Time Atlanta Hawks Series #9: Steve Smith

Welcome back to the GOAT Atlanta Hawks Series. Missed the previous entries? Check them out here:


#16: Jason Terry

#15: Walt Bellamy

#14: Tree Rollins

Our #9 was at the heart of the great Lenny Wilkens' teams of the 90's. His versatility allowed the Hawks to be among the leader in efficient scoring, even during that drag the ball offense Wilkens ran.

Our #9 Greatest of All-Time Atlanta Hawk: "Smitty", Steve Smith!

After coming over from Miami with Grant Long in the Kevin Willis deal, Smith's arrival was widely anticipated. An All-American guard out of Michigan State, Smitty quickly showed his versatility, averaging 17.3 points/ 4.5 rebounds/5.1 assists per game the year before being traded to the Hawks.

While Smith never made it to the level of which he was compared in college, to that other versatile guard from Michigan State, Smith was a very efficient offensive player for the Hawks, ranking #2 all-time in offensive rating, producing 114 points per 100 possessions.

Smith was a leader and steadying force on the floor, and its most capable offensive weapon on a team that routinely made the playoffs during Smitty's time there. Smitty's Hawks won (60) percent of their games, an average of over 49 per season and did so in an era where the East was definitely dominant with the Bulls, Knicks, Heat, and Magic being so strong.

Smith's statistics may look underwhelming on first glance, but his counting numbers were deflated by the extremely slow pace that the Hawks played under Wilkens. During Smith's (5) seasons as top scorer on the Hawks, they were never better than second to last in possessions per game, playing at an almost insanely low 88.74 possessions per 48 minutes.

Consider the slowness:

1994-1995: 89.8 possessions per 48 minutes/26th out of 27 teams

1995-1996: 89.6/27th out of 29 teams

1996-1997: 86.8/27th out of 29 teams

1997-1998: 87.7/28th out of 29 teams

1999: 85.3/28th out of 29 teams

I almost fell asleep remembering the excitement that permeated the Georgia Dome in Game 2 of the 1999 second round playoff game against the New York Knicks (won by NYK 77-70) when you could get up to get a refill on your beverage, use the washroom, and likely still make it back to your seat before they made another basket.

Despite the standstill to which those Hawks played offense, it didn't stop them from being in the top half of the NBA in offensive efficiency, thanks in large part to Smith.

Consider the effectiveness:

1994-1995: 18th

1995-1996: 11th

1996-1997: 8th

1997-1998: 6th

1999: 19th

It was after that last season that then-Hawks GM Pete Babcock made what he called "the worst deal I ever made" and the one item from his extensive reign as Hawks poobah that he would re-do. And remember, this is a GM who trade the Namesake.

After a 4 game sweep at the hands of the Knicks in that sleeper series in 1999, Babcock, sensing the decline of the aging team, sent Smith off to Portland for Jim Jackson and the infamous Isaiah "JR" Rider. Smith's absence was obvious on a team that wanted to rebuild around their Top 10 pick, Jason Terry and recent free agent big man acquisition, Lorenzen Wright.

Smith went on to solid seasons a a Blazer and then as a three point specialist on the San Antonio Spurs before hanging them up at the end of 2005 as a Charlotte Bobcat.

What I remember most about Smitty after he left was a game against the Hawks in 2000 when Smith, with the game well in hand and the final seconds ticking off the clock, stood dribbling the ball in the corner directly in front of myself and the Hawks bench. As I begged him not to stick the dagger in the game, Smith let the ball fly just before the buzzer, swishing the jumper as he had done so many times before. Then, he took a look over to where I sat, and smiled."

Smitty was a leader on the floor and the Hawks didn't have another like him until they drafted Al Horford in 2007 and traded for Mike Bibby later that season.

Smith's leadership, his role in the team's terrific success in his five seasons, and rankings on the All-Time Hawks list:...

  • 2nd in Offensive Rating
  • 4th in Win Shares per 48 minutes
  • 6th in total offensive Win Shares
  • 11th in total Win Shares
  • 4th in 3point % and total 3s
  • 9th assists per game
  • 9th in free throws made
  • 2nd in FT %
  • T7 in turnover rate
  • 11th in PER, 11th in Assist Rate

...makes him a solid pick inside our Top 10, landing at #9.