Maybe it’s getting to the point where all those fans who groan when Josh Smith winds up to take a jump shot (or even just gets the ball on the perimeter) should bite their tongues. Perhaps all those media types who call a Smoove shot attempt a bad one solely because it’s a jumper (*cough cough*) should become a bit more nuanced in their analysis.
A look at the Hoopdata shot location numbers shows that Smoove is making 43 percent of his shot attempts (20 of 47) from 16 to 23 feet and has a 70 percent effective shooting percentage (7 of 15) on 3-pointers. That’s compared to league averages of 40 percent and 54 percent on those shots, respectively. Over his career, Josh has never shot better than 34 percent from 16 to 23 feet or recorded an effective field goal percentage greater than 45 percent on 3-pointers.
All of the usual caveats apply here. It’s early in the season and the sample size is small. There is a mountain of numbers that says Josh Smith is a very inefficient shooter from beyond 15 feet (or from 10 to 15 feet, for that matter) compared to a tiny snapshot that says that may be changing. It creates a great deal of cognitive dissonance to believe that Josh has improved his jump shot so much that he should go ahead and take them.
This is particularly true since, though he’s still only 24, he’s in his seventh pro season and by now you usually are what your numbers say you are. Is it really possible for a veteran professional basketball player to turn a weakness into a strength (or at least not a liability) in such a short period of time?
“I think it is possible to improve certain aspects of your game if you put the time to it,” said Al, who should know since he hit the gym for two straight summers to work on his jump shot and now is devastatingly effective from mid range. “It’s all about practice.”
And there’s the rub with Smoove: He did put the time in over the summer. He hit the gym with Marietta’s Dion Glover and The Hoops Whisperer Idan Ravin for sessions. There was a heavy focus on tuning his jumper but Josh said Glover and Ravin mostly just shored up his confidence.
“I got a lot of reps up,” Josh said. “We would be in there for about an hour and 15 minutes. What I concentrate most on is stepping in to every jump shot and being confident in myself and not getting discouraged. I miss a couple, I get frustrated and get down on myself and then it’s second-guessing.”
No need for Smoove to do that when so many others are willing to do it for him. No doubt they’ve had good reason to do so considering the evidence but, again, perhaps it’s time to keep an open mind and see if he can keep this up. Josh certainly has looked better when he shoots them, and he’s taking more of them in catch-and-shoot rhythm rather than stopping and thinking about it, which seems to throw him off.
When L.D. keeps saying he isn’t strictly against Josh shooting jumpers and only had a problem with the timing of them, I figured it was just a tactical ploy. I assumed he wasn’t just coming out and saying “Smoove can’t shoot” because, knowing Smoove’s prideful streak, that could be the surest way to make him jack up even more bad shots.
But maybe L.D. was just quicker to see what the rest of us couldn’t.
“When you watch him shoot, he has a nice stroke,” Drew said. “He really does. His lower body is in sync with his upper body when he shoots the ball. He’s got good rotation on his follow-through. My whole thing with him is when he takes them. I don’t want them early in the clock, and I don’t want him camped out on the perimeter when it calls for him to dive to the basket and all of a sudden it swings around the perimeter and he’s out there.”
That’s the concern with Smoove’s growing confidence in his jump shot. He’s been very efficient scoring around the basket in his career, and the Hoopdata numbers show that so far this season he’s taking a whopping 2.4 less of those shots per game and more attempts beyond 10 feet.
But there could be a long-term benefit to the approach. Right now opponents still are pretty much giving Josh jump shots. If it gets to the point where they must respect his ability to score from out there, wouldn’t it eventually allow him to drive to the hole more effectively and either score or set up his teammates, which he’s very good at doing?
“That’s what really helps me open up my whole game, when I am able to knock them down, not just shooting them,” Josh said. “I’m pump-faking and driving to the hole. I’m such a good passer, I find my teammates open on the perimeter. It opens up the dribble drive and definitely opens the cuts for my teammates.”
Said L.D.: “A four would definitely have to get out and play him. He does have the ability in midrange where he is one bounce and to the basket. With Al stretching the bigs out now, if Josh gets to the point where they have to respect him out on the perimeter, it opens up weakside backdoor cuts for us as well.”
So, for now, as long as it’s not early in the shot clock or the Hawks aren’t trying to get something in the post, L.D. is fine with Josh shooting the jumper (and the shot selection remains a work in progress). Smoove’s career numbers say it’s folly to allow him to do so but if Josh keeps making them at a respectable percentage and doesn’t stray from his post game–or becomes an even more effective offensive player once defenders realize they can’t just give him jumpers–then why not?
“I tell all of our players: ‘If it is a shot that you work on in practice, you spend time after practice on it, and its’ your shot, I want you to shoot it and feel confident about shooting it,’” L.D. said.