Can this really be a new Josh Smith for Hawks?

Josh Smith has dropped 25 pounds and is down to 225, the lightest since he was drafted. (AP photo)

Josh Smith shed 25 pounds and is down to 225, the lightest he has been since being drafted.

When the playoffs ended last season, Josh Smith was ready to say goodbye to Atlanta. The excitement he felt by the Hawks’ postseason success (beating Orlando, throwing a scare into Chicago) was tempered by the anger of once again being the lightning rod for criticism, seemingly every time something went wrong.

The extreme ups and downs of his career with the Hawks had worn on him, just as it had worn on so many who watched him. As Smith put it, “When you’ve been in one place for a while, it crosses your mind: Maybe I want to get lost. Punch the GPS a few times.

“I’ve been here a long time. I’ve never lashed out at the organization. All I ask for sometimes is, when I raise my hand, maybe somebody can help me up, so I’m not always the person who’s trying to [defend me from criticism]. It would be nice if somebody else said, ‘This guy’s a pretty good player.’”

Smith said he never asked to be traded. But he would not have screamed if it had happened.

Yet, when the Hawks opened the gym following the NBA lockout, guess who was the first player to show up? Guess who lost 25 pounds this summer, changing his workouts, changing his diet, running in the Hollywood hills?

Guess who worked on his mid-range jumper — from 16 feet, not Neptune — and was determined to get faster and quicker so he could excel against the league’s small forwards, after seeing a lot of time at the 3-spot in the playoffs?

Josh Smith showed up to training camp a different guy. He weighs 225, the lightest he has been since turning pro in 2004. After only a few days of drills, coach Larry Drew said, “He’s getting off his feet a lot quicker, getting to the rim and exploding, even more than he has in the past.

“I’m seeing and hearing a passion I haven’t seen before.”

Smith's game four performance against Chicago carried the Hawks.

Smith's performance (23 points, 16 rebounds) in game four against Chicago carried the Hawks. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

I know. It’s early. But maybe this year is different.

Smith knows he deserves criticism at times. He acknowledged during the playoffs, “I know sometimes I take shots I shouldn’t. But I’m not the only one in here who takes bad shots. I just get talked about more than anybody else.”

He makes a valid point. But his mistakes are magnified because his extreme athletic ability reminds us of potential. Also because he can be both the best and worst player on the court at any given moment.

Smith likes playing for Drew. There are far fewer public battles than there were with Mike Woodson.

“It was a great change,” Smith said. “Nothing against Woody but Larry Drew’s a better fit for me. Totally different. Larry knows how to handle a person like a man. If he has something to say to you, he’ll bring you into the office and have it out with you in there instead of playing it out in front of everybody.”

One exception came after Game 2 in the second round against Chicago. Drew publicly criticized Smith for taking too many jump shots and not moving his feet. Smith wasn’t happy. A few nights later, after a stellar performance in Game 4 against the Bulls (23 points, 16 rebounds, eight assists), Smith referenced public criticism, saying, “The media is trying to T.O. me.”

This is what Smith believes gets lost amid all of that drama: He wants to win.

“When we won that first game [against Chicago], just knowing that we were that close to being in the Eastern Conference finals, I felt more passionate than ever,” he said. “I felt we had an opportunity to do something special.

“I’ve been in the league a while. My main concern now is winning. I want to win, no matter what the cost is. I want to be one of the elite teams in this league. My window isn’t closing, but it’s slowly going down. Before I get out of here, I want to accomplish some things.”

We’ll see where this goes.

Smith is saying and doing all the right things. If he’s is serious, the Hawks will benefit. If not, it might be time to punch the GPS.

By Jeff Schultz

Follow me on Twitter (@JeffSchultzAJC). Friend me on Facebook (Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC).

145 comments Add your comment

Paul

December 13th, 2011
1:28 pm

No matter what you think of ASG or the Hawks and the wall they seem to have hit in the East, if Josh Smith fulfilled his potential, Atlanta would have that bonafide superstar everyone always wishes for.

@DanWeiner

December 13th, 2011
1:29 pm

He’s just suckering everyone in like always.

Jeff Schultz

December 13th, 2011
1:32 pm

Paul — I agree completely.

@DanWeiner — I’ll wait and watch.

@DanWeiner

December 13th, 2011
1:34 pm

I really hope he’s a new Josh, but the old Josh always shows up. Hopefully having vets like Stack and T-Mac around will help push him and help him get better.

Hollywould

December 13th, 2011
1:35 pm

Can’t be Josh Smith. Actually using his right hand.

Mr. Phil

December 13th, 2011
1:40 pm

Technically, I can’t think of one playoff serious we have lost specifically because of Josh’s shot selection. And I think some of (underline some) the problem has to go back on the coach for putting him in situations where he could not possibly be successful.

Mr. Phil

December 13th, 2011
1:43 pm

Also, without his contributions the Hawks would have none (underline capitalize) of the success they have had (limited though it may be).

That said…JOSH….stop it.

hawkfan

December 13th, 2011
1:43 pm

Can you imagine Horford @ 4 and Smoove @ 3 playing alongside DHoward? I don’t even think that the Heat would be able to match up.

You would think a star like him would love to play in his hometown and transform the team into an automatic title contender. But I suppose the love for money is much greater …

Hankie Aron

December 13th, 2011
1:43 pm

Interesting Schultzie, interesting. He looks like a different player in the photo

Larry Drew

December 13th, 2011
1:44 pm

Like me sign says: “NO EXCUSES!”

If we don’t get it done, we are all OUT OF HERE.

Thrashers Fan

December 13th, 2011
1:44 pm

F### THE ATLANTA SPIRIT

Hankie Aron

December 13th, 2011
1:45 pm

Hawkfan- Schultz introduced that idea a week ago. Problem is, I don’t think he’s even slightly interested in the Hawks

Gary

December 13th, 2011
1:51 pm

I’m still not convinced this team will be any better than last year’s. We still need an intimidator on the inside to create more open looks from the 3 point line. We do great in transition but as soon as the other team slows the game down, we stand around with our thumbs up our rears. I still think a real coach could make something out of this team, but I’m not convinced Drew can take them to the next level. I was content to take the season off. I hope these Hawks have enough to change my mind.

Coach D.

December 13th, 2011
1:54 pm

@Hollywould – lol.
Josh will be Josh. I just hope the vets play well when Smith gets pulled quickly when he does “Josh things”…

PMC

December 13th, 2011
1:56 pm

Of all the people on this team Josh Smith is my favorite to watch.

If I were to pay to see anyone of them play, Smith is that one.

PMC

December 13th, 2011
1:57 pm

For all of Billy Knight’s wrongs, he hit it out of the park with Smith, he’s the only guy you really see the potential and it’s probably why he’s been such a lighting rod for frustrated criticism.

Harry Hawk

December 13th, 2011
1:59 pm

I don’t expect a 26-year-old player entering his eighth year to suddenly become a star. All I want is for Josh to recognize his limitations and maximize his abilities.

Jethro

December 13th, 2011
1:59 pm

Josh is the man. This is his year. And when, at the end of the year, he says “THAT’S what I’m talkin’ about,” I will say with equal enthusiasm, “You go boy!” Josh needs his props – he’s due.

vdunkndunk

December 13th, 2011
2:04 pm

This is an encouraging article. The best part of Josh Smith’s game is clearly his athleticism, so there’s no point trying to bulk up – I like that he’s coming in light and explosive. I also like the fact that he worked on 16 footers – that seems more valuable for his game and more realistic than becoming a great 3-point shooter.

Trojan

December 13th, 2011
2:06 pm

Go Josh. You have one fan. I wish we had management as talented as Smith.

vdunkndunk

December 13th, 2011
2:09 pm

I also agree with Jeff that Josh gets a little too much criticism, and that the criticism comes largely because he’s so good and has so much potential. When he stays in the post and gets aggressive about attacking the basket, getting rebounds, blocking shots, and getting out on the break, he’s an all-star in my view.

JSS

December 13th, 2011
2:09 pm

He he, remember what I wrote the day the lockout ended? It’s up to Josh now… Show ‘em what you got!!! How is “Wanna be Shaft” Marvin Williams doing?

[...] Josh Smith, ATL: Supposedly, the Hawks will get a new and improved (and entusiastic!) Josh Smith this season. [...]

Toq

December 13th, 2011
2:25 pm

If Josh Smith was playing for any of the “big market” teams, he would be on ESPN on a nightly basis, and not have to even be concerned with half the criticism he gets as a Hawk. If he can just mature and reel it in when he is getting frustrated on the court, he is a bona fide All Star for the next several years. He and Horford could be the best 3-4 combo in the league….

Jimmy Crack

December 13th, 2011
2:26 pm

A new Josh…

Until he shoots his first moon-skimming 3-brick with 15 seconds left on the shot clock.

tb hawksfan

December 13th, 2011
2:27 pm

“All I want is for Josh to recognize his limitations and maximize his abilities.”

If Josh only does this; it should be enough for him to rise to star level. Eliminate the dumb through the disipline to play right and maximize his talents. Sure his teammates would love that.

Hawks still have potential; love to see guys coming in in shape, slim and ready to go. Another good c and a back up PG would be nice too

Matt

December 13th, 2011
2:27 pm

Awesome. Now get the Atlanta Spirit Group out of town so I can go see for myself. I won’t support any product that they’re offering….yeah, I’m a bitter Thrashers fan.

Big Crimson 75

December 13th, 2011
2:30 pm

Watch Out !!!!!
The Hawks will finish with the 3rd possibly even the 2nd best record in the East!!!
Boston is declining, Orlandont is done, and the Bulls are 1 injury from the Lottery.
The shortened season will help a team like the Hawks that have been together a few years.
The Hawks need Smoooooth to realize that potential , Marvin to do something(pick up Crawford’s points), Teague to play like he did in the Playoffs, Watch Out!!!

NCBravesFan

December 13th, 2011
2:35 pm

I’m curious to see how this year plays out – if Josh can take another step forward and Teague can progress, this could be a fun team to watch. Too bad the ASG is unwilling to spend a little more to flesh out the roster and help the team realize its true potential.

KOOL

December 13th, 2011
2:38 pm

Punch the GPS, in my opinion.

gold dust,

December 13th, 2011
2:39 pm

People complain about the Hawks hitting a wall, but they have gotten better each year, moving from the first round to second round blowout to second round competitiveness. I don’t care what anyone says, going to the playoffs each year is better than being in the NBA basement. Josh is 26 years old! Plenty of people grow up a lot in their mid-twenties. It sounds like he’s made some changes, because losing 25 pounds takes a lot of commitment and effort. If he plays to his strengths and gets back to his explosive ways, the Hawks could be very good and make a playoff run. It doesn’t sound like many teams in the east have drastically improved, and Josh Smith having a breakout season is probably one of the largest opportunities for a team to improve from within.

Dawg gone Clayco

December 13th, 2011
2:40 pm

Really, Joe Johnson big contract and under-achievement are the real anchors that are holding the Hawks down, and Josh Smith is just the lightning rod.

Super Bowl Shuffle

December 13th, 2011
2:47 pm

Everyone wants to make Josh a “3″, but in order to be successful in that position, you have to be able to shoot from the perimeter consistently. Josh hasn’t shown he can do that. I remember when Dominque Wilkins came into the league, he couldn’t shoot to save his life. He was a scorer, but he couldn’t shoot. He worked hard on that part of his game and soon opponents had to respect his jumper. The jury is still out on Josh!

Walter R. Terrell

December 13th, 2011
2:53 pm

I hope Josh Smith has grown as a man in mindset. My criticism of him has been sharp and at times cruel. The past few years all I have witnessed is (PO) “potential” and that gets old. His atheleticism is off the charts and if he plays to his strengths then it would be a revival of John Drew, Dominic Wilkins and Dan Roundfield. He can truly be an ELITE player, one that will be remembered with honor and pride. Developing a 15 – 16 footer will enhance his game moreso. Everyone does not get the opportunity to be “GREAT” in their chosen profession but if Josh has grown to realize that it’s not all about him and a highlight reel, then we will watch, love, and enjoy a true ICON. Greatness drips off him like honey on a comb. I am going to buy a case of 2 liter diet pepsi’s because the hope is that I eat every deragotory remark I made about him last year and I need something to make that cornbread go down easy. Make me buy 2 more cases Josh and I hope you have a great year

where's jeje

December 13th, 2011
3:03 pm

Hey Rancidkegturf’s friend..

you buying this new Josh B.S. Same story different year ; )

Rim Rocker

December 13th, 2011
3:03 pm

If the Hawks had a good player (instead of over-paid Joe Johnson) to go with Horford then they might be a threat in the Eastern Conference.

Rim Rocker

December 13th, 2011
3:04 pm

Just think. If ownership had a brain we would have Chris Paul instead of Marvin “Lost” Williams… Sick man.

Joey

December 13th, 2011
3:05 pm

Josh is the only reason I watch every Hawks game. He has sparked (and finished) more fast breaks, and sparked more Hawks’ wins the past three seasons than any other Hawk. Rebounds, steals, pics, and blocks – he is gonna be a bad dream for SFs this season.

Just take the ball to the hole, Josh.

Dshep

December 13th, 2011
3:05 pm

Even though he ticks me off shooting that dumbarse 3pter, I have always liked Jsmoove. Unlike JJ, he seems to give a crap and plays with a lot of emotion. I am ready for some Basketball!!!!

Dshep

December 13th, 2011
3:08 pm

I will never, ever forget that dunk against Boston in playoffs a few years back. Pure greatness!!!!!!!!

rollo lawson

December 13th, 2011
3:08 pm

Why were plays designed for Josh Smith to be standing outside the three point line when the shot clock ran down? What do you expect him to do when Joe Johnson swings the ball to him with 2 seconds on the clock?

Air Zaza

December 13th, 2011
3:16 pm

He should be much better with Teague playing the point.

hometown fan

December 13th, 2011
3:16 pm

don’t buy it. He was self centered and spoilded in high school and hasn’t changed. Every word about how he’s changed comes with an excuse. Hit the GPS button and set him free. He’s a loser

Najeh Davenpoop

December 13th, 2011
3:16 pm

“But I’m not the only one in here who takes bad shots. I just get talked about more than anybody else.”

This is true. He gets talked about more than anyone else because a) his shot looks worse than other players’ shots, b) he is super athletic and people assume this means he has LeBron potential, when he actually doesn’t.

Even a focused Smoove taking good shots is not a superstar. An All Star caliber player like Joe Johnson and Al Horford, yes, but not a LeBron/Wade/Dwight type of franchise-carrying superstar. Atlanta fans generally speaking overrate his talent and underrate his contributions.

Bonez

December 13th, 2011
3:18 pm

I think people often get angry at Josh is becuz his flaws can be fixed easily and he can realize his potential fully.

He needs to watch tape of a Prime Shawn Kemp and emulate that

i_am_soulstar

December 13th, 2011
3:34 pm

Good luck w/ the season Smoove.

Pete

December 13th, 2011
3:39 pm

All this stuff don’t even matter cause the Hawks just don’t have the talent to compete with the Heat, Knicks & Bulls in the East.

Rick Sund

December 13th, 2011
3:40 pm

Yes sir! That is why I wanted to PLAY IT SAFE and not trade. Josh has too much UPSIDE. Maybe this year we can win 3 games in the SECOND ROUND.

hawkfan

December 13th, 2011
3:41 pm

@ Gary: With Teague running the point, the half-court offense should significantly improve. While being a great shooter, Bibby could not penetrate into the lane to save his life. Although still a little raw, I can easily envision Teague averaging 10 assists with a Rondo type of playing style (hopefully with a better jump shot).

The fastbreak was always a strong point for this team, and now the Hawks have the potential to develop a more creative half court offense w/ Teague coming of screens and creating shot opportunities for others.

Unfortunately it’s probably not enough to elevate the current roster to championship-caliber, but it should provide a more entertaining brand of basketball.

phil

December 13th, 2011
3:52 pm