With the return of Al Horford and the departure of Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams, Josh Smith has spent a lot of time playing the small forward. Smoove has been at the three for 10% of the Hawks total minutes this year per 82games.com, while last year he played 0% (he played some, but not enough officially to register). Josh has been average offensively playing the small forward spot posting a 15.3 PER with 19.4 points (49.5 eFG%), 9.7 rebounds, and 6.4 assists per 48 minutes.
However, his improvement defensively has been remarkable as he used to struggle to contain small forwards. In 2010 Josh played 11% of the Hawks' minutes at the three and allowed opposing small forwards to average 19.9 points (53.8 eFG%), 7.1 rebs, and 3.2 assists with a 16.9 PER. This year he is keeping opposing small forwards to 16.9 points (42.6 eFG%), 6.4 rebounds, and 2 assists per 48 minutes and a weak 8.1 PER.
I spoke with Josh February 11 about the challenges and differences in his approach when he plays at small forward as well as his on-court relationship with Al Horford and his maturation as a defender.
What changes offensively, with your positioning and shot selection, when you play at the three?
I'm more in the corners when I play the three. It's kind of like, you have to gauge what you have to do to be successful for the ballclub. When I'm at the three I try to slash a little bit and get some easy buckets in the paint, which opens up my perimeter game. If I have to knock down the open three point basket I try to shoot it with confidence. When you're playing at the three you're going to have possessions where it's going to call for you to take the open shot. You have to be able to space the floor and not clog it up for everyone else.
How do you, when you're at the three and have a smaller guy on you, balance when you go into the post, which bumps one of the bigs out, and when you play outside?
Well, we definitely try to take advantage of mismatch opportunities. Jeff does a great job calling different post-ups for me, and Al's a good perimeter shooter so we try to get him around the elbow area or the short corner so they still have to honor him because he can knock down that shot.
When you do post-up, being a left-handed player you come into your strong hand from the right block. Does your style differ any when playing on different sides of the floor?
I just try to do similar things and try to get the ball deep into the block. I feel like my right hook has improved a whole lot, so now I'm trying to work on a counter on [the left side] to turn baseline and get to my left-hand hook. Basically just being patient and letting the defense determine which move I make.
You've become one of the better passers out of the post. What do you look for when the double comes to know where to go with the pass?
Just being aware of the situation, taking my time. Normally teams come on the bounce, so I try to not really rush into my moves and see what the defense is going to do, and if they don't come I try to go quick and be efficient in my moves.
When you're at the four and Al's at the five, you run the four/five pick-and-roll as well as anyone as well as hitting Al on the slipped pin-downs, can you talk about the chemistry ya'll have with the hi-low game and why that works so well?
We're just trying to get each other involved in the game. Nothing's better than an easy basket, and we try to reward each other whenever we can on easy jump shots or easy dump downs. The game is so hard, they pile in on us in the paint on post-ups and try to make it hard for us to score whenever we have the ball on the perimeter. So we just try to make it a little easier on each other, and just looking for each other to open our games up and give us easy looks.
Teams seem like they're starting to figure out some of your plays, like the Celtics seemed to figure out the pin-down where Al slips, what do ya'll have to do to counter that because teams are going to start picking up on some of those plays?
Just run it. It's pick your poison on that play we just have to read it. You're pinning down for the best three-point shooter in the league [Kyle Korver], so if they play the slip then pass it to Kyle and Kyle will knock down the shot.
Defensively, when you're out on the perimeter, how does your focus change or what are you keying on when defending these guys at the three?
Just trying to stay down. Stay down and stay ready; keep my knees bent knowing that when you're at the three and you're on the perimeter you face more pick-and-rolls and pindowns so just trying to stay locked in and being able to try and discourage the isolations. I just try to play physical like I do in the post and in the paint.
What kinds of adjustments did you have to make when you're defending ball-handlers on pick-and-rolls as opposed to your normal role defending the screener?
It's just the will. You've gotta have will and gotta want to do those things. It does take a lot of energy out of you to guard perimeter players, but you have to be prepared and turn it into a mental type game.
How have you developed defensively in the paint, you were always a shot blocker and had the natural ability, but how have you become a more mature paint defender?
Veteran focus. When you're young you're just excited and want to use all your athleticism and when you get older you become a student of the game and you learn just different scenarios, situations, and strategies of how to guard players. Just not relying on my athleticism so much and basically just trying to play under control.
And no, I did not ask any questions about free agency or his future status with the team because I would have gotten "Generic Answer 3" from the pending free agent handbook about focusing on this year, not looking ahead, and we'll all have to wait and see. It would have been a waste of both of our time.