Monday, October 15th, 2012 at 12:00 pm  |  32 responses

Top 50: Josh Smith, no. 24

The definitive ranking of the NBA’s best players.

by Peter Walsh / @goinginsquad

The ’12-13 season will be a career-defining one for the polarizing Josh Smith. With the departure of Joe Johnson, the born and raised ATLien is now the face of the franchise and has a chance to prove that he is worthy of a huge contract as he is set to enter free agency.

The 26-year-old is coming off the best season of his career, posting highs of 18.6 points and 9.6 rebounds per while while wreaking havoc defensively. Despite nightly dunk highlights and a shoe deal with adidas, Smith still managed to fly under the radar, being snubbed by both All-Star and All-Defensive Team voters.

Smith is arguably the best defender at his position but it’s his shot selection that causes Hawk fans to moan. A career 27 percent three-point shooter, Smith insists on continuing to launch from beyond the arc, taking 100-plus threes last season.

There is absolutely no reason for Smith to ever shoot from beyond the free-throw stripe, let alone the three-point line. There are too many times when Smith is running down court with blinders on thinking, “Fuck it, I’m pulling from 20 and no one is telling me differently.” It’s not Smith’s momentum swinging defensive moments that stick out in people’s minds, but rather the ill-timed airball threes that leave a lasting memory, leading critics to focus on the small negatives instead of the overwhelming positives.

Though his shot selection may never improve, he is still on the verge of becoming one of the top players in the League, and is close to making the claim as the best power forward in the East.

Now, I am not usually one to shove stats down people’s throats, but an exception must be made for Smith. Just look at his numbers from last season:

—2,329 minutes played (9th in the NBA)
—504 field goals (7th)
— 496 defensive rebounds (5th)
— 632 total rebounds (10th)
— 93 steals (18th)
— 115 blocks (8th)
— 1,239 points (10th)
— 25 double-doubles (5th)
— Along with Dwight Howard, the only player to have over 70 blocks and steals

And for all the advanced metrics heads out there:

— 95.9 Defensive Rating (5th)
— 4.9 Defensive Win Shares (1st)
— One of three players (Smith, Howard and Boogie Cousins) who had a 20 PER, 20% Defensive Rebound Rate, 3% Block Rate and 2% Steal Rate

When looking at those numbers, it’s a mystery as to why a 26-year-old with a 6-9, 225-pound frame blessed with otherworldly athleticism coming off the best year of his career with an increased role on a perennial Playoff team and entering his prime isn’t a shoo-in as a Top 20 player in the NBA.

What gives?

Smith, an Atlanta native playing for his hometown team—almost every ball player’s childhood dream—likely doesn’t even feel wanted by the organization. He plays in front of a home crowd that doesn’t give a damn that he is the most entertaining player to don a Hawks jersey since ‘Nique and has been at the center of trade talk seemingly since day one. Think about how that must weigh on his mental.

Yet Smith still comes out and gives his all, it’s a rare event when he takes a night off. Not only did he put together a stellar ’11-12 season, he took on more of a leadership role than the aforementioned Johnson.

Let’s not forget that after Al Horford went down with a pectoral tear that kept him on the pine for the remainder of the regular season, it was Smith, not Johnson, who stepped up and played tremendously for his squad. Smoove took control of the team, put up big numbers and wouldn’t let the Hawks fail when they were dealt a massive blow, carrying them to a Playoff berth.

Smith is often criticized for speaking his mind and openly questioning the Hawks’ front office—though he has reason to, they showed him absolutely no love in promoting him for an All-Star selection last season. But when it comes down to it and push came to shove, Smith puts the bickering on the back burner and focuses on winning.

With the amount of access given via social media outlets and blogs, players are no longer judged strictly based on their game. Their personalities are under such a microscope and Smith has fallen victim many a time to slow news days and brooding reporters. Smith not only faces the unfortunate situation of an apathetic home crowd, a part of the game that is sure to get any under competitor’s skin after a tough loss, but is also a transparent dude—the type of player pundits love to feast on.

Last season, numerous “sources” claimed that Smith requested a trade from the Hawks’ front office by the March deadline. J-Smoove never once made his trade requests public and based on his personality, wouldn’t it have made sense for him to at least budge a little bit when the media was drilling him with questions regarding a trade?

Over the last eight seasons, outsiders have wrongfully lambasted him, ignoring one of the greatest talents in the NBA for a story that will generate “hits.” With Danny Ferry now running the show, J-Smoove has a clean slate and a chance to seize the moment. The ‘12-13 season can go one of two ways for the talented power forward. He can either say enough is enough and give in to the trade rumors and go the route of Carmelo and Dwight or buckle down, continue to improve and become a dark horse MVP candidate.

Here’s hoping for the latter.

Where should Josh Smith rank in the SLAMonline Top 50?

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SLAMonline Top 50 Players 2012
Rank Player Team Position Pos. Rank
50 Greg Monroe Pistons C 8
49 Tyreke Evans Kings PG 14
48 Brandon Jennings Bucks PG 13
47 Stephen Curry Warriors PG 12
46 Ricky Rubio TWolves PG 11
45 Al Jefferson Jazz PF 14
44 Anthony Davis Hornets PF 13
43 Serge Ibaka Thunder PF 12
42 Al Horford Hawks C 7
41 Ty Lawson Nuggets PG 10
40 Danny Granger Pacers SF 6
39 Tim Duncan Spurs PF 11
38 John Wall Wizards PG 9
37 Monta Ellis Bucks SG 8
36 Zach Randolph Grizzlies PF 10
35 Roy Hibbert Pacers C 6
34 Tyson Chandler Knicks C 5
33 Eric Gordon Hornets SG 7
32 Kevin Garnett Celtics PF 9
31 Manu Ginobili Spurs SG 6
30 Amar’e Stoudemire Knicks PF 8
29 Marc Gasol Grizzlies C 4
28 DeMarcus Cousins Kings C 3
27 Paul Pierce Celtics SF 5
26 Andre Iguodala Nuggets SG 5
25 Rudy Gay Grizzlies SF 4
24 Josh Smith Hawks PF 7

• Rankings are based solely on projected ’12-13 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Jake Appleman, Maurice Bobb, Rodger Bohn, Brendan Bowers, Franklyn Calle, David Cassilo, Bryan Crawford, Adam Figman, Eldon Khorshidi, Eddie Maisonet III, Ryne Nelson, Ben Osborne, Allen Powell II, Sam Rubenstein, Jonathan Santiago, Abe Schwadron, Leo Sepkowitz, Dave Spahn, Ben Taylor, Tzvi Twersky, Peter Walsh, Tracy Weissenberg, Yaron Weitzman, DeMarco Williams and Dave Zirin.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.

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  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk

    right on the money

  • what

    Pretty fair write-up, although it is worth mentioning that he has been much more upbeat about the organization since Danny Ferry got hired.

  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk

    Oh and Pete this is the best write up of the year so far imo. really good man.

  • spit hot fiyah

    never, ever sleep on the contract year. woooord up! (jerome james voice)

  • Max

    JSmoove will be an absolute beast!

  • Shifty

    Does anyone else think “damn he’s only 26?!” Dude is a talent. Fills up all the stats besides the three point ones. Is a freak of nature.

  • http://www.facebook.com/HolyBaller Dillan Leu

    Those stats are certainly eye-popping.

  • http://www.facebook.com/HolyBaller Dillan Leu

    I thought he had to be at least 28. Crazy to think he’s only 26.


    j.smith pls make all star team

  • LakeShow

    9.6 Rebounds. Damn. Didn’t realize.

  • nhm

    this guy is only 26??? damn, feels like he’s been flying under the radar forever! gotta get an all star nod soon,

  • Peter Walsh

    High praise coming from someone who reads every one of these…thank you.

  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk

    lol no, thank you for considering my opinion high praise

  • north

    great write up… Sad that he thinks he’s not wanted in ATL since they’ve done things to make his “tweener” position work. J-Smoove is my favorite player since ‘Nique and there must be something about their similarities that gets them left behind while their peers with worse games head to the limelight. It can’t just be that the Hawks get no love, ever. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that Smith is a lifer for ATL even if it ends in arthritis.

  • Caboose

    Great write up, but honestly, he’s going to be given the keys. 23-11 is not out of the question. Perhaps I’m being too bold (probably am), but I see him as finishing the year 10 spots higher than this.

  • http://twitter.com/TalkofPhilly Derrick Slanger

    after reading this, I don’t think he’s gonna re-sign with the Hawks.

  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk

    10 spots higher? Boose, you gotta take into account this will be his first season as his teams top dog — the increased attention teams are going to pay him might diminish his ability to produce at such a high level. Although you really could be right, especially considering….contract year

  • Caboose

    Yeah, I base it on 3 things: 1st option, post-All Star stats last year (22-10-4), and contract year. You know that towards the end of last season, teams were planning around Josh, and he did better than earlier in the year.

  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk

    that’s totally valid. that is just where my ranking him (at 24) came from, so i assumed the same for the SLAM staffers

  • LakeShow

    Lofty. Hella lofty. I like it.

  • Caboose

    Fair enough, you know I tend to make bolder predictions than you year after year. We’ll see though, it’s tough to undervalue the performance of money-seeking cats in a contract year.

  • z

    A compliment from you is high praise around here lol. Youre the most regular commenter as well as the most studious

  • ctk

    Flatout too low …he should be higher than a couple of PFs thats gon be ahead of him on this list

  • hugo

    cant help but think he would play real well with rondo…

  • TR

    Underrated, I don’t even think of him when I name top PFs, definitely should.

  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk

    yeah no doubt man, i am actually intrigued by your theory that he can jump to 23-11-4-2-1 – i really hope he does, the East will be pretty unpredictable this summer with all that cap space Atlanta has

  • Caboose

    Very much so. I mean, EVERY team in the East has a chance to be a surprise team. Except Orlando x_x

  • LeroyShonuff

    I would really hope my bulls take a long hard look into this guy as a free agent. Amnesty Boozer and hopefully we can team him up with Noah, Deng and Rose. But I would rank him higher. Considering slam’s ranking system, and the transition the nba is undertaking, he is a prized commodity. Only 3yrs older than blake and love but better defenders, open court players and passer. He is a steal of a player with the right pg.

  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk

    sorry about that man. at least you can take solace in Charlotte probably not improving….

  • Caboose

    But the Cats have no place to go but up. They must be better than last year. Plus they’ve got MKG (still my pick for turning out the best of this year’s draft) to watch develop. Orlando gets to watch….Baby? Afflalo? Harkless?

  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk

    the Cats really still could be worse than Orlando. They are going to be god awful. If Orlando gets the a top 5 pick next year, with their better role players, they could remain a better team. As good as MKG is and will be, he won’t ever be a guy that can carry an offense, which is what Charlotte needs, desperately. Orlando can still space the floor and shoot teams out of the building (not often, but they can) — Charlotte doesn’t even have that.

  • Caboose

    That’ll be interesting to see how it plays out. I still assert Orlando will be #15 in the East, but yeah, it’s not out of the question.