Josh Smith showed up at training camp with a changed body (a career-slim 225 pounds) and a seemingly changed attitude (“I’m seeing and hearing a passion I haven’t seen before,” observed his coach, Larry Drew).
The difference has been apparent to anybody who has watched him for most of this season — but apparently not to the coaches who select NBA All-Star reserves.
Smith wasn’t named to the Eastern Conference All-Star team Thursday night. That makes eight consecutive years he hasn’t been honored. Most of those seasons, nobody could argue. But this season’s omission is a huge injustice.
Smith has been a consistent performer this season, with only a few hiccups. He has been forced to take on a bigger role with the loss of center Al Horford to injury. He has been more of a team player, more under control — and, yes, smarter.
In fact, a case could be made that Smith has been the Hawks’ best player and the biggest reason they’ve overcome injuries to Horford and backup center Jason Collins and started the season 17-9.
That’s no disrespect to Joe Johnson, who was named an All-Star for the sixth consecutive season and deserved to be. But Smith has been the team’s difference-maker.
Even TNT’s Charles Barkley took up the argument for Smith, saying on the network’s All-Star show Thursday night, “Josh Smith deserved to make the All-Star team. … Josh Smith has been the best player on the Atlanta Hawks this season.”
Former Hawks guard Jamal Crawford, now with Portland, Tweeted: “On the other side of things, don’t know what else Josh Smith can do to be an all star smh.”
All-Star reserves are picked by coaches. Who went ahead of Smith? Chicago’s Luol Deng and Philadelphia’s Andre Iguodala. So let’s compare the numbers. Smith has averaged close to 15.6 points, nine rebounds, 3.2 assists and two blocks. He has not missed a game. Deng has averaged 16 points, seven rebounds, 2.5 assists and 0.7 blocks — and he has missed seven games with a wrist injury. Iguodala’s scoring (13) and rebounding (6.7) averages are lower. His assist average (5.2) is higher, but his blocks (0.5) far lower.
Deng and Iguodala are All-Stars for the first time in their respective careers. But this should’ve been Smith’s first time. My view: His career reputation for being gifted athletically but prone to too many ups-and-downs hurt him. But that hasn’t been the case this season. Somebody just isn’t watching.
By Jeff Schultz