Is Josh Smith an All-Star?
Despite all-around career statistics few in NBA history have reached, the Hawks forward has never been chosen for the All-Star Game. He has not been voted in by fans, selected by coaches nor named a replacement by the league.
Through his eight-plus year career, Smith is on the verge of becoming just the 24th player in NBA history to reach the milestones of 10,000 points, 5,000 rebounds, 2,000 assists and 1,000 blocks. The 23 players who reached those marks, including nine Hall of Famers, combined to appear in 184 All-Star Games. Only one, Mychal Thompson, never made an all-star appearance.
In Smith’s 624 career games, he has averaged 15.1 points, 8.0 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 2.2 blocks and 1.3 steals. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he is the only player in league history with career averages over 15.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 2.0 blocks and 1.0 steals.
Steve Smith, the former Hawks player and broadcaster and current analyst for NBA TV, said Smith being left off the All-Star team is a “travesty.”
In a series of interviews with NBA executives, coaches, players, analysts and support personnel, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution examined the question of why Smith has never represented the Eastern Conference in the midseason exhibition featuring basketball’s top players. The inquiry revealed a number of possible reasons - some of Smith’s own doing, some out if his control.
Smith doesn’t figure to be voted in by the fans as a starter. He is competing at forward with the likes of LeBron James, Kevin Garnett, Chris Bosh and now Carmelo Anthony – all high-profile, high-scoring fan favorites. James has been a starter for all eight games that Smith has been in the league taking away one spot. He and Garnett were the starting forwards for three straight years (2008-10). With the Knicks adding Amar’e Stoudemire and Anthony from the Western Conference, starters with James the past two years, the competition for votes is tougher than ever for a player who has never selected.
In the first balloting results released by the league, Smith is eighth among front-court players with 69,344 votes. He trails the leader James by 572,000 votes and is just ahead of the Sixers’ Andrew Bynum, who hasn’t played a game this season.
Coaches, who name the All-Star reserves, have ignored Smith. One reason could be the early-career reputation that Smith developed especially playing under then-Hawks coach Mike Woodson. While other players had run-ins with Woodson, several of Smith’s were highly-publicized.
Coaches may also be influenced by some of Smith’s on-court reaction to officiating. Smith’s scowl and sometimes overt actions certainly look bad. Many of the head men from the early part of Smith’s career are still in the league with the same or different teams in NBA’s often-limited coaching carousel.
“He has the ability,” said Heat coach Eric Spoelstra, who noted he was unaware Smith has never been an All-Star. “He has the production. He’s been successful enough to have been an All-Star at some point.”
The league had two prime opportunities to name Smith a replacement and passed. David Lee was named in 2010 and Rajon Rondo was named in 2012. Lee, a forward, was named to replace guard Allen Iverson. Last season is the most troubling for the Hawks and Smith’s camp. When the Hawks’ lone representative Joe Johnson pulled out of the game with left knee tendonitis, the Commissioner David Stern opted for Rondo, a guard, instead of another Atlanta player.
Johnson’s career in Atlanta also hurt Smith. The guard made six straight All-Star games as a Hawk. When center Al Horford was named to the team in 2010 and 2011, before missing the game with an injury last season, the Hawks were unlikely to have three representatives.
“In the past year’s I’ve put up All-Star quality numbers,” Smith said. “I always seem to fall short. I think it impacts the people around me more so than me like my parents, my family, my friends. They feel like I’m deserving of that opportunity at least once or twice in my career. They see the things that people normally don’t see. They see the offseason workouts. All the energy I put into that in order to be a better person, be a better player. They see all the ups and downs of the season. They experience all that. They understand. They see me and they see all the struggles. They want it more. I definitely want it. I definitely want it, don’t get me wrong. I want to do it for them.”
The Hawks style of play in recent years was suggested as something that works against Smith. The offense was looked at as a half-court system that promotes isolation plays, mostly running through Johnson. With the trade of Johnson, the Hawks are emphasizing an up-tempo style.
While the Hawks have made the playoffs the past five seasons, their failure to get past the second round could also have affected Smith’s selection. National attention comes with deep postseason runs.
While Smith puts up impressive numbers in several statistical categories, not everything the forward does appears in a boxscore. Smith can guard several positions and he influences many opposing shots as a help defender.
Over the course of this career, Smith’s numbers tend to get better as the season progresses. Each year, from November to April, Smith’s monthly-averages in points and rebounds per game get better with just a few exceptions. All-Star voting and selections occur in the first three months of the season.
One statistic that works against Smith is his shooting percentage. For a player who excels around the rim, Smith’s jump shooting adversely affects his numbers. He has shot over 50 percent from the field only once in his career (2009-10). An ill-timed jump shot can be accentuated by the ensuing groans from fans after a miss. For his career, Smith is shooting 28.3 percent (221 of 782) from 3-point range.
Smith, who jumped directly from high school to the NBA, has been a regular starter throughout his career. It has taken time for the 26-year old to mature into the player he is today from a basketball sense. A case can be made that only Smith’s statistics the past two seasons are All-Star quality.
“I always say you have to do it twice,” TNT analyst Kenny Smith said. “I say 8 out of 10 guys have to do it twice. He’s in that 8 out of 10. Having one great year followed by another great first half of a year. I think that he’s done that this year so he’ll be on.”
The starters for this season’s All-Star game, to be played Feb. 17 in Houston, will be announced Jan. 17. The naming of the reserves by coaches will follow in several weeks.
For Smith, the wait continues.
- Chris Vivlamore
FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER @AJCHAWKS