Josh Smith is renowned around the league. He is famed for his poor shot selection, his love of shooting long field goals (whether for 2 or 3) and for his sometimes impetuous nature. As a result, when the Hawks allowed the Atlanta native to leave for Detroit this past summer, they were commended by many, including a lot of Hawks fans. The value of his replacement, Paul Millsap‘s contract, has also made many look down on Smith as overpaid and overrated. So what sort of reception should Smith get from Hawks fans in their matchups this season with the Pistons this week and in the future? How should he be looked on in the annals of Hawks history? The answer is simple: he should be acclaimed and revered.
For all his flaws, Smith’s positives on the court more than outweigh his negatives, and have done so for a number of years. The 27-year-old’s stellar contribution is often ignored around the NBA, a bone of contention with Smith himself. Despite posting consistently outstanding numbers, he is yet to have his number called for a first All-Star appearance, making him arguably the best player in the league yet to be recognized in that manner. Smith often voiced his feeling that the Hawks front office didn’t do enough to pitch his case for All-Star selection during his time there. Now with the emergence of the news that the Hawks never even made an offer to Smith during free agency, there’s potential for a sour taste to linger between both sides. When Smith returned to Philips Arena for the first time Wednesday night, the crowd let him hear the jeers. Although it was no real surprise that Smith was forced to hear cries of “Shoot” and “You’re always open, Josh,” it was still disappointing. This sort of reaction can often happen around the NBA, with the departure still fresh in the mind, but it’s up to the Hawks fans to acknowledge their one-time hero’s accomplishments over the coming weeks, months and years.
The Hawks have made a solid and quietly impressive start to the season, particularly on the offensive end. Atlanta is currently ranked second in the league in assists at 25.7 per game and their free flowing passing and unselfish ball movement is paying off early on. They are also shooting efficiently with a field goal percentage of 47.7 percent, which has them in the top five in the NBA. The one area where the Hawks have struggled is on the defensive end. Allowing an average of more than 100 points per game is not something the Hawks have done often in recent years and the loss of Smith’s defense seems an obvious reason for the current struggles.
Attention tends to focus on Smith’s spectacular dunks or his terrible missed jump shots, but the truth is that it is on the other end of the floor where he excels. He is a defensive stud who can defend a variety of positions both on and off the ball. For his career, Smith has averaged 2.1 blocks and 1.3 steals per game, two of the facets of his game that help him to stuff the stat sheet on a regular basis. When combined with just less than six defensive rebounds a game too, Smith is a defensive powerhouse unlike many others around the league.
Aside from the areas in which the current Hawks group may be missing his production, Smith’s place in Hawks history is already assured. In his nine seasons playing for his hometown franchise, Smith achieved the following:
- 676 Games (9th in franchise history)
- 10,371 Points (8th in franchise history)
- 5,407 Rebounds (7th in franchise history)
- 2,170 Assists (10th in franchise history)
- 857 Steals (5th in franchise history)
- 1,440 Blocks (2nd in franchise history)
This makes him not only a loyal servant, but one of the greatest competitors in the history of the Hawks. If it wasn’t for Smith, would the Hawks have made six straight playoff appearances, tied for the current longest streak in the Eastern Conference? Probably not.
Forgetting all that, there’s also all the charge down blocks, the spectacular dunks, his Dominique Wilkins-winning Dunk Contest performance and so many game winners to remember. Josh Smith grew up a Hawks fan and came straight out of high school to represent the hometown team he loved. The emotion he showed on the court was because winning with the Hawks meant the world to him. With the Hawks logo tattooed on his left bicep, he heaved many terrible and misjudged shots, playing with his heart and not his head, but that’s not what’s important. Smith has given more of himself to the Hawks than anyone else in the last decade and deserves to be celebrated. Who can forget moments like this?
In time, J-Smoove’s legend will grow in Atlanta, and although he was jeered last night, I for one hope that he gets the respect and support his play has earned, for many years to come.