The Los Angeles Lakers’ playoff chances are dwindling by the day, which may indicate that a shakeup is on the horizon. Perhaps the Lakers have Josh Smith, the current hot topic in NBA trade rumors, on their radar. But would acquiring the athletic forward in exchange for Pau Gasol really be worth it?
Smith is an intriguing asset. His lengthy frame combined with his freakish athleticism is a rare combination and a lot of teams would jump at the opportunity to obtain him just for those two reasons alone. Add in the fact that he’s only 27 years old and the line of suitors consists of 29 teams. And the Lakers would surely be one of those teams.
However, if the Lakers were to acquire Smith, they would ultimately be going against their newly revised plan, which has Gasol becoming more of a perimeter shooter. They want to clear Gasol out of the paint so the middle is open for Dwight Howard to operate. Smith, though, isn’t much of a shooter to begin with and most of his offensive value exists in or near the paint.
Smith is shooting 26.1 percent on shots categorized as mid-range jumpers. This includes shots from 10 feet to just inside the 3-point stripe. Now, Gasol isn’t what you’d call a Steve Nash-like threat as a perimeter shooter, but he is a much more capable shooter than Smith, as he’s shooting 37.7 percent on mid-range shots.
Even on spot-ups, Gasol is the alpha dog, as he ranks 198th in the NBA, while Smith ranks 251th. Perhaps Nash’s supreme facilitating skills have something to do with Gasol’s higher ranking, as Smith doesn’t exactly have that luxury with Jeff Teague at the helm of the Hawks’ offense.
Either way, Los Angeles would essentially be subtracting a shooter from their already shaky shooting unit. In other words, Smith’s below 30 percent mid-range shooting would replace Gasol’s high 30 percent mid-range shooting.
Plus, Nash would be deprived of a shooting weapon off picks-and-pops and the Lakers’ spacing would crumble even more than it already is. The end result would have Smith and Howard clogging the middle, which is what the Lakers have been trying to get away from with Gasol and Howard.
Could things possibly get worse? You bet.
Smith couldn’t aid the Lakers at the charity stripe. He’s shooting a career-worst 52.3 percent from the line, while the Lakers rank 29th in the NBA in free-throw shooting.
If LA were to acquire Smith, there’s a relatively good chance that they could drop to 30th within a short matter of time. Just think about the situation for a second. Nash and J-Smoove would successfully run a pick-and-roll … that is, until Smith would get fouled and miss free throws. More wasted points.
My point: Smith, in large-part due to Nash’s presence, would attempt more free throws because he would get more attempts near the rim, where he would presumably get fouled more often.
Okay, so Smith’s offensive game wouldn’t exactly fit in with the Lakers’ already confused disaster. How about his defense?
Well, if there’s one reason the Lakers should covet Smith, it’s his harassing defense, two words that would chronicle the opposite of the current state of the Lakers’ defense.
I doubt Smith could be the one-man savior, but he’d be the closest thing to that description. He’s the 24th-best isolation defender in the NBA, which is a good measure of a player’s personal defense. On post-ups, there’s usually extra help that slides over, and on picks-and-rolls, everyone is generally in a big cluster.
Howard–who has been caught flat-footed a lot this season–has been continually beaten by the pick-and-roll. His still bothersome back has hindered him from covering the roller, which leads to easy points in the paint. Instead of having Howard cover the roller, he could make a quick switch with Smith, who’s very mobile. I’d say his ranking of 34th in the NBA when guarding the roller would justify that.
However, Gasol’s defense hasn’t been one of his noticeable shortcomings. Those have been many, but defense hasn’t been one of them. Opposing power forwards averaging a PER of 15.4 off him over a 48-minute span, whereas Smith yields a 15.7 PER. With the average being 15, based solely on PER, Gasol’s the better defender, but that would be evading Smith’s stellar isolation and pick-and-roll defense.
So yes, Smith is still the better defender of the two. He creates more turnovers due to his athleticism, and is tough to avoid in the paint. But given the sacrifice the Lakers would clearly be making offensively by flipping Gasol and Smith, is his defense enough of a compensation?
The Hawks would win the deal because Gasol is under contract through 2014, whereas Smith is almost certain to leave after this season given the strained relationship between Atlanta’s management and himself.
Smith’s name thrown in between the likes of Bryant, Nash and Howard certainly looks good on paper, but if paper was playing, the Lakers wouldn’t be where they are right now–out of the playoffs.
Stats courtesy of NBA.Com, Basketball Reference, 82 Games and Synergy Sports
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