Josh Smith: From draft bust to coach-killer to All-Star?

Josh Smith is becoming a top player. Next up: Top chef? (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Josh Smith is becoming a top player. Next up: Top chef? (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

He entered the NBA in 2004 having already been tabbed by Jay Bilas as a potential bust. He worked his first five professional seasons having been labeled a coach-killer. To his credit, Josh Smith is close to shedding old labels and affixing a new one.

All-Star.

He has had better numbers in seasons past, but never he has played better. He’s averaging 14.8 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.2 blocked shots and 3.7 assists against 2.1 turnovers. (The latter two are career bests by some distance.) He has made 51 percent of his shots. (Also an apex.) And if you see those stats and they don’t quite say, “All-Star” to you … well, hear this endorsement from the coach Smith was supposed to have slain.

“I think he’s close,” Mike Woodson said. “If we continue to hang in there and win, we could have three guys. Al Horford is close [and Joe Johnson is a lock]. That would be unbelievable, especially for Smoove [Smith]. You see all the hard work he has put in, and there’s still room for improvement.”

Well, yes. Smith, 24,  has been in the NBA twice as long as Horford, who is only six months and 29 days younger. To see Smith in Year 6 is  to forget the addled days of 2004-2005, when he didn’t know the first thing about playing and those overmatched Hawks were losing 69 games.

Woodson: “He was 18 years old, and he’d never really been coached. That was a major jump. He had to learn everything. He probably caught more hell than any player I’ve ever coached, but I couldn’t be more proud of any player I’ve ever had.”

Told that Woodson, with whom he has had publicized dust-ups, has become his chief advocate, Smith seemed moved. “It’s like he and I have overcome stuff,” he said. Then this: “Everybody always blew it out of proportion.”

That’s true. Each man has a temper. Woodson can laugh when describing Smith’s early struggles: “He got hold of me!” But it’s significant that the only pro coach Smith has known no longer couches every assessment in the conditional.

Said Smith, smiling: “A while ago, he’d say [to reporters], ‘He’s still got some learning to do.’ ”

We all kept wondering what Smith would be when/if he ever grew up. We’re getting our answer. Twenty points and 15 rebounds against Phoenix on Friday, when his fourth-quarter work kept the Hawks close enough for Jamal Crawford to win it at the horn. Fifteen points and 11 rebounds against the Celtics a week before that. Twenty-two points, nine rebounds, six blocks and seven assists in the November blowout of Denver.

He has made five turnovers in a game only once this season. He hasn’t fouled out. (OK, so there was one ejection.) He has hoisted only three three-point shots in 39 games. (He tried 87 last season, 152 in 2006-2007.) Put simply, we no longer cringe when Smith gets the ball. He knows what not to do.

Woodson: “He’s managing games; that’s the sign of maturity.”

Smith: “It’s something that comes with playing. You see it with rookies who went to college: They come in playing on excitement. [And Smith, we must note, came to the NBA straight from Oak Hill Academy.] They don’t understand how to win. I know the time and score now, even if it’s the first quarter.”

About the All-Star thing: Woodson and Smith think there’s a chance he could make it, but realistically it’s a long shot. (Were he — or Horford, for that matter — averaging a double-double, that would be different.) But just being in the conversation marks a breakthrough for J-Smoove, who has gone from being as unsteady as a pup tent to standing as an absolute pillar of the team that sits atop the NBA South.

He’d love to be introduced as an All-Star in Dallas on Valentine’s Day. “It would mean a lot,” he said, “coming from where I was at 18 to coming into my own.” But if doesn’t happen this February, there’s always next year and the next. For all the playing Josh Smith has done, he’s still on the first half of his NBA career. The years ahead should be Smoover sailing.

80 comments Add your comment

double g

January 17th, 2010
12:02 pm

I’ll bite. Stupid, I know.

First?

double g

January 17th, 2010
12:02 pm

Just think. I missed church for this.

double g

January 17th, 2010
12:07 pm

It’s amazing what a little maturity will do for one’s attitude. He still pouts when the fouls don’t go his way, but he indeed is no longer a coach-killer (or, for that matter, and ulcer-creator).

Maturation of the entire team bodes well for the next few years, pending a few critical free-agent signings, and a little more money from the Spirit group.

Methinks.

Mark Bradley

January 17th, 2010
12:09 pm

Kudos, Double G. (Not for missing church.)

Sonny Clusters

January 17th, 2010
12:10 pm

Clusters can’t jump and consequently Clusters don’t know a lot about basketball. Is J-Smoove and Josh Smith the same fella? We was thinking it may be time for us to get a street name. Mark, do you have one? Markey-B?

Delbert D.

January 17th, 2010
12:11 pm

Credit Coach Woodson for molding this young man, instilling the right stuff for a team approach to the game and putting the Hawks at the top.

Sonny Clusters

January 17th, 2010
12:12 pm

Clusters doggy dog is already taken, right?

Sonny Clusters

January 17th, 2010
12:16 pm

Coach killing is one of the worst things a player can be known for. They was a baseball player in town that wouldn’t listen to his hitting coach and some said he was a coach killer. That coach tried his best to get him to take a pitch and take a little off with 2 strikes but that coach killer would not change. Guess what? That player got traded for an entire Church but the church has since left town.

Reid Adair

January 17th, 2010
12:17 pm

Josh Smith certainly has turned the proverbial corner. He is doing the little things to help the team win – especially thinking about what shots to take.

I don’t know if the explanation for the change is Smith maturing or Mike Woodson’s coaching, but whatever did it, all Hawks fans should be thankful.

willie martinez

January 17th, 2010
12:18 pm

i went to the 6 am Mass, but alas, it lasted till noon.

f19ure

January 17th, 2010
12:18 pm

Bradley, Smith is 24. He recently celebrated his birthday at the beginning of last month. Other than that, there’s not much to nit-pick at.

willie martinez

January 17th, 2010
12:20 pm

to be honest, Mass only lasted an hour. Confession took up the rest of the time.

Mark Bradley

January 17th, 2010
12:20 pm

Whoops, sorry. He is 24. I have trouble with cipherin’, like my cousin Jethro Bodine.

Mark Bradley

January 17th, 2010
12:21 pm

Sonny C. with an evocative image, I must say.

Mark Bradley

January 17th, 2010
12:22 pm

J-Smoove is indeed Smith’s nickname.

HawksFan24

January 17th, 2010
12:25 pm

Mark, with the Wizards looking to have a fire sale on their players is there any possibility of adding Brenden Haywood and Antwan Jamison? This team is right there. They are among the elite and have a chance. We just need a dominant low post scorer and Jamison would give us that threat.

Blindog

January 17th, 2010
12:27 pm

His sister plays down here in Columbus at CSU and I tell you what that girl can play I think she leads the team in everything!

Sonny Clusters

January 17th, 2010
12:28 pm

We was reading about Derek Dooley and he sounds like a pretty nice guy, but dull. We was wondering if he is Derek D. Dooley and if that D stands for dull? Dull may be what Tennessee needs about now and dull should fit pretty good with that crowd. We was almost with an orange team but that was Clemson orange where landscaping giants come from. Some of the biggest landscapers – hall of famers – come from Clemson where when you graduate you automatically qualify for a John Deere on credit. That gives ‘em a leg up on landscapers from other schools. Tennessee orange was always suspect to us and we think moon pies with orange icing is something from the devil.

CWM telling the truth

January 17th, 2010
12:32 pm

I was at a diner three blocks from CWM’s church. He’s right about the confession taking so long; for starters, the first 45 minutes the priest lit him up for his performance in the Florida game.

I must say THAT was disappointing. Not that the priest lit him up, but that I spent all this money for noise cancellation headphones, and anytime I’m in earshot of someone talking about CWM, they fail miserably.

WonderDawg

January 17th, 2010
12:32 pm

As goes Josh, so goes the Hawks …. Mark, if he will develop a dependable, 15 ft jumper and leave the refs alone, he start making the AllStar game annually. Agree?

Sonny Clusters

January 17th, 2010
12:35 pm

Clusters babies are know to be the handsomest babies found anywhere- and they are very smart babies, too. When we was a brown-eyed baby they wrote a song about us playing in centerfield. Maybe some of you have heard it . . . “Well, beat the drum and hold the phone – the sun came out today!”
“We’re born again, there’s new grass on the field.
A-roundin’ third, and headed for home, it’s a brown-eyed handsome man;
Anyone can understand the way we feel.”

“Oh, put us in, Coach – We’re ready to play today;
Put us in, Coach – We’re ready to play today;
Look at us, we can be Centerfield.”

Pitchers and Catchers report in February.

Orange Crushed

January 17th, 2010
12:38 pm

I still remember Sonny’s team losing to the crosstown rival his junior year. A big “bidness” man, supporting the rival, bribed the local Dairy Queen guy to rename their Orange Blizzard the Sonny Clusters.

Sonny missed the first three plays on offense. They covered for him, saying his chinstrap broke, but the truth was he was roaming the stands looking for a cross to wear. Of course all he found were fans sippin’ on the newly named Sonny Clusters Orange Blizzard.

I’ve never seen Clusters so flustered, before or since.

Of course Sonny made them pay for it his senior year, but that’s another story.

WonderDawg

January 17th, 2010
12:39 pm

Like that ditty, Sonny. Didn’t know the inspiration was Clusters babies. Did y’all get royalties?

Sonny Clusters

January 17th, 2010
12:39 pm

Dairy Queens across the country are featuring the Turtle Pecan Clusters Blizzard this month. This Blizzard is Pecan pieces blended with chocolate, rich caramel and creamy vanilla soft serve. Stop in today, Warren Buffett can use the money.

We are a little modest about this being a Pecan Clusters month but we was always good to the Dairy Queen and now they are being good to us.

Mark Bradley

January 17th, 2010
12:41 pm

If you add Antawn Jamison, HawskFan24, where does Josh Smith play? And Jamison has a big contract — he’s making $11 million this year — with two more seasons to run.

f19ure

January 17th, 2010
12:50 pm

Agreed with Bradley, Jamison is making too much money (he’d be a salary dump for a rebuilding franchise like the Wizards).

Besides, Jamison isn’t nearly as productive as people think and his age doesn’t sit well with the direction the Hawks are attempting to go in.

heywood...

January 17th, 2010
1:00 pm

mark,
how bout some insight and updates during this cowboys game.
as i told jeff, georgia eyes are watching…
thanks, heywood…

willie martinez

January 17th, 2010
1:09 pm

It was wierd that the priest had these patches under his eyes with Bible verses. And he kept wanting me to call him Fr Tim.

cdog

January 17th, 2010
1:13 pm

when josh smith develops his outside game he will be unstopable. he reminds me a lot of dominique wilkins and julius ervin wrapped in one. great job hawks. lets win the southeast and on to the nba finals this year.

Sonny Clusters

January 17th, 2010
1:26 pm

Another song we was responsible for was written for us by some cheerleaders at our school the night of the state championship. We believe they was just fantacizing.

Some enchanted evening
You may see a Clusters,
you may see a Clusters
Across a crowded room
And somehow you know,
You know even then
That somewhere you’ll see us
Again and again.

Some enchanted evening
Clusters may be laughin’,
You may hear us laughin’
Across a crowded room
And night after night,
As strange as it seems
The sound of Clusters laughter
Will sing in your dreams.

Who can explain it?
Who can tell you why?
Fools give you reasons,
Wise men never try.

Sonny Clusters

January 17th, 2010
1:33 pm

We was pretty sure the blog is messed up again. We just posted a link to a picture of us getting a trophy handed to us at work and it never appeared. Too bad. We looked good in that picture.

Sonny Clusters

January 17th, 2010
1:35 pm

We tried to post this song earlier but something happened. We was the inspiration for this song written by a bunch of cheerleaders at our school. We think they may have been fantasizing about us.

Some enchanted evening
You may see a Clusters,
you may see a Clusters
Across a crowded room
And somehow you know,
You know even then
That somewhere you’ll see us
Again and again.

Some enchanted evening
Clusters may be laughin’,
You may hear us laughin’
Across a crowded room
And night after night,
As strange as it seems
The sound of Clusters laughter
Will sing in your dreams.

Who can explain it?
Who can tell you why?
Fools give you reasons,
Wise men never try.

Sonny Clusters

January 17th, 2010
1:36 pm

Yep, the blog is broke. We was trying our best to get a nice song posted but it won’t work. Now, we are going to Dairy Queen for a little while.

Free Mike Vick

January 17th, 2010
1:46 pm

Bradlley? Just what do you have against the brothers?

Elmore Spencer

January 17th, 2010
1:51 pm

When does the Sonny Clusters bathroom book hit shelves?

Angus

January 17th, 2010
1:59 pm

Can’t stand Favre, but that was nice.

Josh Smith is going to be a classic “if I had known then what I know now” story. I say his immaturity is still hurting his game – how ’bout a smile every now and then?

sansho1

January 17th, 2010
2:00 pm

Johnson may make the All-Star team, and Smith may not — but Smith has the greatest and most consistently positive on-court impact of any Hawk. And it’s for the exact reason you say, Mark — he has worked hard to eliminate bad plays from his game. If he can get back to hitting 70% of his free throws, I feel comfortable saying he’s one of the six best players in the conference. Looking around, the only Eastern guys I know I’d take ahead of him right now are LeBron, Wade, Bosh and Howard. And then Josh, Pierce, and Rondo in some order, and then Johnson.

Senator Blutarski

January 17th, 2010
2:02 pm

having fun on a Sunday, relaxing, drinking coffee and readin’ ’bout the Hawks!

Floze

January 17th, 2010
2:15 pm

Any truth to the rumor that Joe is on the block to the Lakers for Bynum?

willie martinez

January 17th, 2010
2:26 pm

is the blog broked or Mark just choked?

Paul The Vol

January 17th, 2010
2:30 pm

So I just heard that Coach Dooley is about to hire Coach E Russell at Tennessee. Actually that’s Eric Russell of Texas Tech, but still funny.

Dan

January 17th, 2010
2:34 pm

The only way adding Jamison would have made sense was if the Hawks had not matched the Memphis offer for Smith. Jamison costs way too much. Plus, Jamison would not start on this team. He is not playing in front of either Josh or Al.

Bum Phillips

January 17th, 2010
2:43 pm

Ah say Maak, that sounded like a shot against my little boy Wade. Please suh, refrain from such ratha banal obsavations in the fucha.

Bum Phillips

January 17th, 2010
2:44 pm

Oah at least as long as you can. Yo have my thanks Suh.

pants on the ground

January 17th, 2010
2:50 pm

Pants on the ground
Pants on the ground
Lookin like a fool with your pants on the ground.

jerrywest

January 17th, 2010
2:51 pm

JSmoove should understand that every long jump shot he takes is equivalent to half of a turnover – even the ones he makes. The only reason its not a full turnover is because he makes 25% of those.

They are momentum busters.

jerrywest

January 17th, 2010
2:53 pm

If JSmoove stops pouting, he’ll have more blocked shots.

NCBravesFan

January 17th, 2010
3:02 pm

This has really been a fun season to watch from afar. The Hawks are only on free telly when they’re on nationally up here in NC, so I see them only on occasion.

The accolades Smith and the team are getting throughout the League and the national media are refreshing to see. It was only a year or so ago that a writer for ESPN.com named Smith the player most likely to be a “team cancer” in his preseason predictions. It seemed as harsh an opinion then as it is clearly & surely an inaccurate one now.

But more important than the opinions of the so-called experts is the fact that the Hawks are just a fun team to watch (as Bradley has written previously). Maddening at times yes, but a fun bunch.

We can speculate forever about how far this team will get (either this year or at any point), but the best thing for a fan to do really is just enjoy the ride and be grateful that a former joke of a franchise is now the envy of many.

E43

January 17th, 2010
3:22 pm

everything about josh smith came from woody. when he was in the AAU, his attitude towards the refs was not even close. Josh took too much from Woody if you ask me coz theres not a single game i remember when Woody and Josh didnt take it to the refs ears.

Sonny Clusters

January 17th, 2010
3:52 pm

Whoa! Some Clusters posts appear later than others. Some Clusters posts don’t show up for awhile and then there they are above some that have already posted! We would never post that song twice on purpose but that’s what happened. The Dallas defense hasn’t given up a TD yet but Wade and the boys are going to get cut loose now and Georgia could have saved some money hiring an out of work DC like Tech did. We was told a Derek Dooley joke but we wasn’t going to tell it here it on the blog. Somebody said Vince might wear some orange underpants and nobody will know he’s pulling for Tennessee unless he drops his pants unexpectedly. We knew a fella that swore by lucky underpants and we knew a sportswriter that wrote all about it.