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Atlanta Hawks: All Eyes On Josh Smith

After my own scathing recap of Atlanta's loss to Milwaukee which centered on the play of Josh Smith, there were a couple of other articles that popped up around the internet on the subject. The Point Forward had an interesting read on Smith's off season work with famed trainer Idan Ravin on his frequently discussed jump shot. AJC writer Jeff Schultz asks if it is time to trade Josh for a legit point guard? Easily Josh Smith has been the most loved/hated, hot/cold, Hawks player over the last few seasons. One major reason for that is his play, good or bad, usually has a profound impact on every Hawks game. You can't really say that about every player but it is very close to the truth when it comes to Josh.

Smith's jump shooting is outlined well in The Point Forward article which chronicles his hot start to the season shooting the ball and his recent downturn. His numbers over the last 20 games are more in line with his career shooting numbers entering this season.  

If you’ve been watching the Hawks, you know Smith’s numbers over the last six weeks have come crashing down. In his last 16 games, he’s just 11-of-40 (27.5 percent) from three-point range. And those long twos? During his last 20 games — nearly half Atlanta’s season — Smith has hit just 23-of-74 jumpers from the area between 16 feet and the three-point line. That’s 31 percent — almost exactly Smith’s career rate from this range and well below his season-long rate of 39 percent.

My opinion is that Smith's jumper has improved and you can see the different form at the free throw line. Ravin is one of the best trainers in the world and I have no doubts that he helped Smith this off season. The fault I see with Josh has more to do with shot selection than whether or not he can hit the shot. Simply put you make more shots closer to the basket and that holds true for just about any player. I think anyone that watched the Milwaukee game can agree that it wasn't an exhibition on shot selection. 

Is shot selection something that can be corrected? Maybe or maybe not. It really depends on the player. One of the major problems here in lies that no coach has over the long haul ever stood up to Josh on shot selection. Sure Mike Woodson and Larry Drew have complained about it, but there have been just a few times where bad shots have resulted in Smith being taken out of the game. 

Why is that? My theory is that he absence from the floor hurts the team too much defensively. Which brings me to Jeff Schultz's article about trading Smith. As frustrated as I can get with him sometimes, I wonder if the Hawks can afford to let him go defensively. I talked a lot about Smith's defensive performance at length in the Milwaukee recap but after listening to the Peachtree Hoops faithful I decided to watch the game again and focus in a little more on the Hawks perimeter defense. Smith covers up a lot of Atlanta's perimeter deficiencies. After re-watching I still felt that early on he didn't do a good job rotating out to shooters early but late in the game it looked like he knew he was going to have to help and then of course got caught in between on some three point shots late. 

Schultz says the Hawks can fix a lot of their problems with a take charge point guard. I am afraid that by trading Smith though you fix one problem by creating another. Sure I guess if you traded for a strong perimeter defender at the point guard position then it would take some of the need for Smith's shot blocking skills away but of the names Schultz throws out there (Chauncey Billups and Steve Nash) only Billups would be classified as a strong defender and he is 36 years old. Don't get me wrong, I would love to have either point guard on this Hawks team. I am just not sure that trading Smith for either is the answer.I would much rather have this situation that Schultz describes rather humorously. 

It would be great if general manager Rick Sund could somehow swing a deal for a take charge point guard who simply would look at Smith waving his arms in the corner, laugh and then look in the other direction and give the ball to someone else. But the Hawks don’t have that leader right now.

Schultz goes on to say that perhaps Sund can make a move with the expiring contracts of Jamal Crawford and Mo Evans. According to ESPN's trade machine Evans/Crawford for Billups works but Denver would almost certainly want picks in return also. There is no guarantee that Billups who is from Colorado would want to be in Atlanta. 

As I have discussed before, I love the idea of Nash here but even if the Suns were willing to move him he is not going to be an upgrade defensively and almost makes Josh more important than he is now defensively. 

In Smith, the Hawks have a near All Star talent that is sometimes lacking in judgment. That is not a completely bad thing as on talent alone Smith is capable of carrying a team on some nights. However, there is also a steady diet of the bad which was on full display in Milwaukee. Even with all of that Smith is young, a home grown product, and is a pillar of the Hawks core that they have gone out of their way to keep intact. He isn't going anywhere anytime soon.