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Sunday, October 2nd, 2011 at 2:29 pm  |  35 responses

Top 50: Josh Smith, no. 29

The definitive ranking of the NBA’s best players.

by Doobie Okon

I wanted Josh Smith.

All due respect to Elton Brand, which is a ton of such respect, but Josh Smith was the prized free agent that the 76ers should have signed in the summer of 2008. There were a few instances when it seemed like Philly was making a real push for the Hawks‘ restricted star then but those talks fizzled and GM Ed Stefanski proceeded to sign the 30-year-old Brand, coming off a bad Achilles injury, to a five-year, $80 million deal.

No slight to EB. I was excited when he inked his contract since he had always been one of my favorite players, but I was wary of his physical condition. And so far, in spite of the injuries, he’s proven to be a great veteran leader on a young team and actually provided a full, very serviceable season for the Sixers last year, posting 15 points and 8 boards in the most games, 81, and minutes per, 34.7, he’s played since ’06-07.

But I wanted Josh Smith.

Back in 2008, J-Smoove was only friggin’ 22 years old but coming off his fourth year in the League. He had already established himself as an elite defender with an exciting, yet flawed offensive game. People weren’t sure what to make of Smith in the coming years, whether he was going to surge into the top tier of NBA stars or remain at the struggling-to-make-an-All-Star game level.

What was certain was that he was going to receive an extremely fruitful deal from some team and I thought it was definitely worth the risk for the Sixers. Maybe if they had offered him the right dollars, Atlanta wouldn’t have matched. He had Brand by seven years, a much healthier body, and a prime ahead of him, instead of behind.

Three years later, you could say there definitely is some debate as to where Josh ranks amongst the stars. Still with his hometown team, there may some doubts to his game but none of which regards his durability and defense.

In ’08-09, the former Oak Hill star played in 69 games, the least of his career. He consistently ranks around the top 20 in rebounds, yet many would say that he should record more boards, especially with the way he can maneuver and leap around the basket.

But most other elite rebounding PFs (Kevin Love, Z-Bo, Blake, Pau, KG, LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMarcus Cousins…) have Smith by an inch or two and about 15-25 pounds. Josh also spends plenty of his minutes on the perimeter guarding some of the League’s best scorers, pulling him away from the paint which allows Al Horford to get his as well.

Indeed, Smoove does rely on his jumper too much and has been criticized for shot selection throughout his career, but he has drastically improved his shooting over the last three seasons, posting a 49.1 percent mark, compared to his first four in which he shot 44.4 percent.

Funny enough, Smith went from attempting only seven three-balls in ’09-10 (and converting none of them) to jacking up the most, 154, of his career last year and actually connecting on nearly a third of them with 51 treys. Oh, and for good measure, he just happened to record his best free-throw clip as well at 72.5 percent.

Sure, you could argue his numbers from either viewpoint that he’s steadily improving or that he’s reached his maximum potential, at least scoring wise. I feel like too many pundits and fans focus on Smoove’s offensive flaws rather than his delightful, high-octane style that is unmatched by anyone else on the floor. Though last season did seem like the first in which the experts actually were a little outraged that Smith was denied his first All-Star appearance, despite his good-but-not-great stats (16.5 ppg, 8.5 rpg).

Because you have to look at a player like Josh Smith in a vacuum, away from the numbers. Often there is speculation as to whether the Hawks should try to trade Smith before his contract is up, but many say it’ll be hard for Atlanta to get equal or better value in return. This stands as a result of Josh Smith’s extremely unique skill-set, one that really goes beyond the stat sheet.

Think of it this way: What are the two most exciting things that can happen on a basketball court? Because you could make a case that Josh Smith is the best in the world at both of them.

On the offensive side, obviously… well, let’s just put it this way. At the ripe old age of 19, in his rookie season, Smith owned the field in the 2005 Slam Dunk contest. I remember this was the first time I was really exposed to Josh Smith and I have been a fan ever since. In the way that Ken Griffey used to hit his home runs so smooth and pretty, that’s what Josh Smith does to his monster dunks.

And on the defensive side…there’s nothing like someone’s shot getting stuffed. Of course, not every block is highlight-reel material just like there are some very normal dunks through the course of the game.

But Josh does both in such an exciting fashion that he’s a seat filler. And surrounding these two great abilities is a well-rounded basketball game that’s sorely underrated at times by the rest of the League. But Atlanta knows what they have.

For one thing, he could be known as just a flashy dunker and a sneaky, trailing transitional blocker. But he stops shots at an alarming rate. He’s already amounted 1,190 blocks, only 38 behind the mighty Dwight Howard and good for 53rd all-time. In February 2010, he recorded his 1,000th block quicker than any other player reached their 900th!

Along with his Southeast counterpart, Josh will probably end up near the top 10 all-time in another seven or eight years. Currently Robert Parish is 10th with 2,361 blocks, so the Atlanta star is already more than half way there. And in addition to the stuffs, Smith also provides great perimeter, one-on-one and help defense, He could probably win a DPOY trophy some day and might have already picked one up had it not been for that monster over in Orlando.

And Josh isn’t Fred Jones or Gerald Green—he has an offensive game aside from the nasty slams. If last year’s shooting marks are any indication, Smoove has seriously been working on his touch. With Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford, Smith isn’t really relied on to be a 20/10 guy like other PFs around the League need to do for their team. But given the opportunity, he could be that guy.

And come the summer of 2013, barring a sooner trade, that five-year contract is finished and Josh Smith is right back up on the market. Brand and Andre iguodala will both be off the books, so could the Sixers make another push? He will be just 27, and I can only imagine him growing even more as a player in the next few years.

Whatever happens, this guy needs an all-star nod already. Until then, I’ll happily continue watching the highlight reels on SportsCenter Top 10s throughout his career.

And in 2013, I’ll probably still want Josh Smith.

SLAMonline Top 50 Players 2011
Rank Player Team Position Pos. Rank
50 Luol Deng Bulls SF 8
49 Andrew Bogut Bucks C 7
48 Ray Allen Celtics SG 9
47 Marc Gasol Grizzlies C 6
46 David West Hornets PF 15
45 Kevin Martin Rockets SG 8
44 Andrew Bynum Lakers C 5
43 Brandon Jennings Bucks PG 11
42 Lamar Odom Lakers PF 14
41 Gerald Wallace Blazers SF 7
40 Brook Lopez Nets C 4
39 Joakim Noah Bulls C 3
38 Carlos Boozer Bulls PF 13
37 Kevin Garnett Celtics PF 12
36 Eric Gordon Clippers SG 7
35 Tony Parker Spurs PG 10
34 Andre Iguodala 76ers SG 6
33 Al Jefferson Jazz PF 11
32 Al Horford Hawks C 2
31 Stephen Curry Warriors PG 9
30 Tim Duncan Spurs PF 10
29 Josh Smith Hawks PF 9

Notes
• Rankings are based solely on projected ’11-12 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Maurice Bobb, Shannon Booher, David Cassilo, Bryan Crawford, Sandy Dover, Adam Figman, Jon Jaques, Eldon Khorshidi, Ryne Nelson, Doobie Okon, Ben Osborne, Quinn Peterson, Dave Schnur, Abe Schwadron, Dan Shapiro, Irv Soonachan, Todd Spehr, Tzvi Twersky, Yaron Weitzman, DeMarco Williams and Ben York.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.

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  • http://Slamonline.coM nbk

    Good work Doobie. His defense is a little overrated (individually against big 4′s he struggles) but I can dig this

  • PlanetAsia14

    Thought he’d maybe be a few spots higher, but I’m ok with this… If only he had a consistent jumper then he’d pretty much be right up there with LeBron… And he still can hopefully haha. Love J-Smoove, one of my favorite players for sure.

  • http://www.bulls.com Enigmatic

    My main problem with this is I really think Al Horford is the better of the two now – better rebounder, shoots a higher % from the FT and a much higher % from the field, a turnover less per game too.
    And Horford was ranked 32nd.
    Smith takes too many jump shots and outside shots, I remember when the Bulls played the Hawks in Atlanta in the playoffs and you could actually hear Hawks fans yelling “NO!” every time he jacked up a shot from the perimeter.
    It was similar to Bulls fans back when we had Tyrus Thomas.

  • http://slamonline Aaron

    Luol Deng had a better season, plus he’s a better shooter. Deng plays the passing lanes better and doesn’t dribble as much. The Bulls won 60+ games mainly because of a healthy, efficient, scrappy Deng. He’s just as good of a defender or maybe better that J.Smith… But Josh can jump high! Oooooh!… whatever.

  • http://www.bulls.com Enigmatic

    @Aaron – It’s really hard for people to truly appreciate what Loul Deng does, so I expected him to be overlooked in these rankings.
    But yeah, he is an extremely valuable player.

  • http://slamonline.com Sean

    ^ word to both of you… Deng should be way higher in the rankings. He is the Bulls 2nd most important player. He should of been All Defensive 1st team, an All Star, and just generally more appreciated by fans, and the media.

  • MUBWAR

    deng was number 50. can bulls fans let it go?

  • sad

    Smith takes most of his jumpshots when he plays the Small Forward to let Horford and Pachulia operate inside.

    Unfortunately Horford doesn’t dominate inside. And yes Smith is better defending the small forward and running the wing instead of being the PF stretch-trailer. Its becoming clear that Smith’s ideal position would be next to a stretch 4 like Kevin Love or Dirk Nowitzki.

  • http://www.slamonline.com/online/media/slam-tv/2010/07/baltimore-love-thing/ Abe Schwadron

    Didn’t everyone in Chicago loathe Deng pre-DRose? Not to say Rose is responsible for the natural development of a clearly talented player, but it shouldn’t go unmentioned that he’s playing alongside the MVP.

  • ctkennedy

    i could see alittle higher but this is about the right range no problem with this ranking….im just happy yall know he better than Horford

  • http://slamonline Aaron

    @Abe Schwadron-I don’t see your point. Wade and James are on the same team and I’m sure they are going to be in the top ten. D-Rose is top ten and Deng isn’t in the top 30 according to this list.

  • http://www.slamonline.com/online/media/slam-tv/2010/07/baltimore-love-thing/ Abe Schwadron

    Well let’s not get crazy comparing Wade and/or Lebron to Deng. I’m simply wondering if Deng would look as good if we replaced DRose with a league-average PG. I’d also argue Rose, the league MVP, was “mainly” why they won 60+ games, not Deng.

  • http://www.bulls.com Enigmatic

    Abe, Bulls fans were pretty high on Deng prior to Rose, but the season prior to Rose and well as in Rose’s rookie year, Deng was battling injuries and problems with inconsistency.
    Couple that with the big contract he signed, and many Bulls fans weren’t feeling him for a while.
    @MUBWAR – you mad?

  • http://cnbc.com JTaylor21

    Deng has always been good way before Rose was drafted by the Bulls. People forget that he was the go-to guy during the Bulls first round upset/sweep of the defending champs (MIA). The guy has been a very good player for a while and let’s not hold DRose’s development against him.

  • http://www.bulls.com Enigmatic

    Bron and Wade deserve to both be top 10.
    Top 5, really.
    So no, comparing Rose and Deng to Bron and Wade is really not fair.
    But it would’ve at least been nice to see Deng higher than Boozer and Noah since he really is their second best player.

  • http://slamonline.com datkid

    deng > josh smith until josh smith learns how to play basketball better. and to answer your question abe.. deng might look better than with a league average pg bc he’d be forced into being a first option.

  • RyanT1992

    josh smith is no a top 10 pf…no way

  • RyanT1992

    not*

  • http://slamonline Aaron

    @datkid-Your right, Josh Smith doesn’t play good basketball. The hawks in general don’t play good basketball. Joe Johnson and Crawford have amazing shot making ability which gets them by. Still, as a team they play to much one on one basketball, not team ball. If josh smith knew how to play off the ball better, he may stick more jumpers, but he dribbles to much. Deng knows where he is going to score on the full and he doesn’t dribble into danger zones.

  • ctkennedy

    Josh Smith IQ aint that bad …he hits HALF his shot …what else u want him to do on O …he the third or fourth option …gettin 15 a game…can guard 1-5….while avg. just as many or more boards than LaMarcus Aldridge n Amare Stoudemire 2 players who r gon to be ranked higher than him easily …a top assist Big man..avg more dimes than Durant n Melo who has the ball in they hands WAYYYYY more than Josh Smith

  • http://Slamonline.coM nbk

    Well Josh Smith only shoots 47% from the field as a PF. I think thats the major difference between him and Stoudemire (well that and how many more points amare puts up with it). Aldridge defends the position and the Center position way way better. And you can run a whole offense through him. You dont have to run pick&rolls, or backdoor plays to get him good shots.

  • ctkennedy

    @nbk no question Amare can score better ..but night in n night out Josh Smith do everything else better on the court…no argument outta me that u take Amare as a number one option hes a elite scorer…but is Amare more valuable as a number one than Josh Smith is as a number 3option? thats debatable to me
    im a knicks fan ..i cant wait to see how Amare plays knowin he gon be a number 2 on offense..knowin he got to step up his defense night in n night out
    get more 12-15rebound games n less 30pt games

  • http://www.bulls.com Enigmatic

    Josh Smith can guard any position on the court?
    Ha ha I’d love to see him try to guard CP3 or D Howard for a full game…

  • ctkennedy

    of course he cant do it a full game but i like his chances over 98percent of the other 4s n the league doin it for a full game though

  • MUBWAR

    Enigmatic said: Bron and Wade deserve to both be top 10.
    Top 5, really…REALLY TOP 10 loool
    They’re actually 1 and 2 and if slam doesn’t recognized that some is wrong? Why would I be mad bro? the future is bright for the heat, now the bulls is a totally different story.

  • http://www.bulls.com Enigmatic

    MUBWAR, you are really turning into one trolling motherf*cker, you know that?
    If you could stop hanging off your favorite players’ nuts for one second, you would see I’m paying your boys a compliment.
    Personally I think it’s 1. LeBron 2. Kobe 3. Wade
    But you would never think that because your boys can do no wrong, in fact in your mind Joel f*cking Anthony probably deserves to be in the top 10, doesn’t he?
    And the reason why I ask if you’re mad is because every time the Bulls come up, you come charging in like a knight in shiny white hot armor proclaiming the Heat to be the biggest and the baddest and the Bulls as nothing but sh*t stains on the bottom of LeBron’s kicks.
    We get it, kid.
    Your team is great. Got some great players.
    But guess what? There’s other great players and teams out there too.
    And yes, the Bulls are one of those teams, Derrick Rose is one of those players, like it or not.
    But you go ‘head and keep living in your own little bizarro world where the Heat have already won their 7th title, it’s all good…

  • http://hoopistani.blogspot.com hoopistani

    In my opinion, Al Horford is the best Hawk, above Josh Smith and overrated-ass Joe Johnson

  • http://www.slamonline.com Max

    I think Dwight > Kobe.

  • Drig

    I don’t have too big a problem with this ranking. He’s athletic. He can bring the crowds back into the game. And he along with Horford help maintain Hawks’ D (although Smith would not look good vs. a good Offensive PF one-on-one for an extended period of the game :\ )

    @Max,Strictly about next season, it’s very intriguing with Kobe…….His hops seem to me ages better and that’ll help him finish better. He’s had a long break after an effing long time too. Even with Brown’s “square” O which places equal priority to both Kobe, Bynum and Pau, I don’t think his stats will suffer. And Dwight’s stats have maxed out too……..Tough job slam…

    1. LBJ
    2. Durant
    3. Kobe
    4. D12
    5. Wade
    6. DRose
    7. CP3
    8. Melo
    9. Nowitzki
    10.DWill

    and @Deng-Smith comparison, would Bulls fans actually take Deng over Smith if given the choice of equal contracts?? Just wanted to know.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/officerbarbrady what

    Deng has a defined role in an NBA caliber offensive system playing alongside the MVP. Josh Smith has an undefined role in a high school caliber offensive system playing alongside one of the most inefficient scorers in the league, whose grind-it-to-a-halt style results in everyone on the team putting up inefficient shots. It’s foolish not to take this into account when comparing the two. And yes, if you look at them in a vacuum, Smoove is better than Horford.

  • http://slamonline.com LakeShow

    Ehhh.. I like the kid, but naw he isn’t better than Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Bogut. I’d argue taking a slew of other cats over dude also. He is a good 3rd or 4th option on a contender and that ain’t that Hawks.

  • ab40

    Get this guy and Chris Paul on the Magic before it is too late

  • Drig

    @ab40……I’d really love to see that….>Pass the pipe this way, please.

  • Slim

    re: aaron

    He doesn’t dribble into his shots as much as you say. He just can’t stick them.
    Horford’s problem as a forward is his dribbling, length arent good enough to get into the paint.
    Too stiff and leaves the team shooting jumpers vs Derrick Rose’ and 1 layups and other teams 3 point shooting.

    Horford is the 4th option because he lacks the skills to be a dominant forward with the ball.

    Hawks should try to steal Motiejunas with Horford and stick Smith on the baseline on offense.
    Extend and Upgrade the pitiful bench. Spread the offense, trade Horford’s pop out 2s for pop out 3s and stick the centers and Smith inside and let Teague and Johnson feed everyone.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MgNGfEmiibM
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bq-kntVFD5c
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k8JwlaG9cCk
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bVZK-zGjsfc
    http://espn.go.com/nba/tradeMachine?tradeId=3n3j7tn

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