The annual Josh Smith rumors are starting to kick into full gear now that the trade deadline is nearing.
Perhaps you’ve come to the realization that Smith will stay put and I wouldn’t blame you. Past trends have been spurious ever since Smith’s name became a hot target in trade talk and nothing has materialized from those rumors. At least, not yet.
Will 2013 be different? Will these yearly whispers finally be something more than just jabber?
Well, there’s no better year than this year for the Hawks to trade Smith. He’s in a contract year and the Hawks haven’t accomplished anything too notable with him over the past eight seasons.
Of course, Atlanta has been a playoff team since 2008, but they haven’t gone past the conference semifinals. Eventually, early exits don’t satisfy the need because the ultimate goal is winning the championship.
So they need to try something new. A new group of players and a new approach could do the trick. They already have the main pieces in place, meaning there’s no need for a completely overhaul of their roster.
Trading Smith could be this solution. Last year, this probably wasn’t the case. The athletic forward was amidst a career year and, more importantly, the Hawks were competitors in the Eastern Conference. Dealing him in that situation would be the type of move that a rebuilding team would make to dump money and become younger.
This year, the circumstances haven’t necessarily changed. Atlanta owns the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference and is almost a lock to make the playoffs again. However, Smith hasn’t been as big as contributor. Worse, he hasn’t been much of a threat offensively, averaging just 16.9 points per game, along with a mere 99 points per 100 possessions rating.
To be clear, Smith has never been a pure scorer in the mold of LeBron James, Kobe Bryant or Kevin Durant type of player. According to Synergy Sports, he’s the 73rd best isolation player in the NBA, which isn’t considered great for a team’s go-to guy. His supreme athleticism, though, paves the way for easy dunks out of fast breaks and picks-and-rolls, which is where most of his baskets come from.
But these easy points have been harder to come by for Smith this season. And when he runs into those types of opportunities, he isn’t making good use of them either; he’s shooting just 31.1 percent on shots in the paint (restricted area not included) and 36.2 percent in the mid-range. The ugly number is free-throw percentage–a career-low 53.1 percent. Simply, easy buckets and Smith haven’t mixed thus far.
Perhaps Smith’s bleak shooting numbers are due to the Hawks turning to him as “the guy.” In the past, Joe Johnson assumed this role. But now that he’s with the Brooklyn Nets, Smith has emerged as the guy who is labeled as the Hawks’ best player. He isn’t necessarily their best scorer, but he’s the next well-known name on Atlanta’s roster, naturally making him the guy.
The difference between Johnson and Smith, however, is that Johnson could create his own shots, while Smith can barely put the ball on the floor before having it taken away. Johnson is also a better pure shooter and better in clutch situations, as his varied skill set allows him to take the big shots, whereas Smith is limited to certain spots on the court.
Defense, meanwhile, is and has always been an area of strength for Smith. He’s the 16th-best isolation defender in the league according to Synergy Sports and is also a solid post-up defender.
However, defense isn’t the concern for the Hawks. Their tremendous size both in the starting lineup and second unit leaves them set if they were to move Smith.
So it would only make sense to move him before the deadline and get something in exchange. Perhaps Atlanta could take a shot at resigning him, but such a mission would be tough unless they bring aboard another superstar–Dwight Howard, anyone?
What should also be noted are the intangibles. With the number of trade rumors that have surfaced over the past few years, why would Smith want to remain in Atlanta after this season?
That is a question only Smith can answer. But with the lengthy forward’s regression and the Hawks’ need for a pure scorer to pair with Louis Williams, it may be time to turn the rumors into a reality.
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