Well, here we sit at 4th in the Eastern Conference standings, with Orlando 3 and a half games ahead of us, and Detroit just a game behind us. The gap widens a good bit more with Miami being 3 and a half games behind us, and New Jersey even further away. But more on this later (probably much later), seeing as how position in the standings doesn’t mean as much now, as it will after the all-star break. Not to say that our better-than-ever record isn’t something to be applaued and enjoyed. It most certainly is. But the real jockeying for position happens later in the season. And a lot can happen between now and then. As I said, more on that later.
As of now, the Hawks have found themselves not only competitors, but winners in the types of games that they surely would have lost last year. We’ve talked about Bibby’s effect on this team, and how we’re playing the game better. We’ve talked about Marvin taking his game to the next stage in evolution. It seems like the whole team has been in a state of transition, mostly for the better. Another player whose game seems to be in transition is none other than Josh Smith. Sure, his penchant for wanting to make the big play frustrates us all when it goes bad, but no one can knock the guy’s effort.
Smith has dazzled teammates and opponents alike with his supreme athletic ability, and it’s always been something he could fall back on. One seriously bad play has usually been followed up shortly thereafter with an equally brilliant play, often times a display of sheer athleticism and effort. Unfortunately, games are both won and lost on such plays, and while turnovers-per-game is a statistic, unbelievable plays-per-game is not. And when Smith returned to action from that high ankle sprain that held him out for 12 games, he was not the same explosive player we’ve come to know. At first, this was a serious struggle for Smith, not being able to block shots from seemingly impossible angles, unable to take that long first step to get past his defender, and unable to outhustle opponents in general. But it seems that he has learned some lessons on how to score without those physical advantages. He’s been getting to the free throw line more in some games. He’s looking to score more inside than he is outside (though he still goes for a couple of threes every game, it seems). And this has produced nice results for the span of the last 6 games, in which Josh has averaged 21 points, hitting 20 points or better in 4 of those games, all while shooting 57% from the field. Unfortunately, he’s also had an average of 3.5 turnovers per game through that 6 game stretch, and his rebounds have been down to about 5.3 per. Of course, with more touches comes the risk of more turnovers.
Are we finally beginning to see him “get it?” Or is this just a good stretch of basketball being played by our one man highlight factory? Only time will tell. Perhaps Josh will never be a mastermind or great student of the game. Perhaps he will always be what he is now: a physically gifted athlete that does what few others in this league can do, but with limitations in some areas. Perhaps we expect too much, or expect the wrong things from him. Or maybe not. Some say that the key to the Hawks’ path to elite status in the East is in Josh’s hands. Others say he will always be a hindrance to the furtherance of this team. Which one is right? Who knows. It could be that both ideas are not quite accurate.
One thing is for certain: just like Bibby, this team needs Smith and is better with him than without him. The Hawks’ record “with him” vs “without him” makes that rather clear all by itself.
So, is Josh beginning to turn that corner, or has he not made that stride just yet? Will learning to be JSmoove make him better at being JSmash, or will he keep trying to do things he’s not so good at? Will he play smarter and better, or are we seeing what we’re going to get right now ? And finally, should Josh continue to work on his outside shot ( as painful a growing process as it can be), or should he spend his time honing his post game and doing the things he knows how to do?