If the Clippers had added Josh Smith two years go when Josh Smith was a star and a free agent, maybe they would have been on to something. But in two years time Josh Smith has fallen off the map. His scoring efficiency has deserted him, gone south. His insertion into the Clippers cast of characters- Paul Pierce, Lance Stephenson, Chris Paul and quiet man Blake Griffin– presents more questions than answers. Consider that Josh Smith was so much of a cancer he was waived by the Detroit Pistons, forcing them to eat his $14 million dollar salary for the next two years. The Houston Rockets added Smith, who grew up with Dwight Howard, and while he added a little something he was hardly the player that he once was when he made the All-Star team in Atlanta. In fact, his best contribution of this past season was when he helped engineer the Game 6 comeback that flattened the Clippers psyche and robbed them of a trip to the Western Conference Finals.
In the Western Conference Finals himself, Josh Smith was tantalizingly average. He shot 21%, 29%, 37%, 42%. The only game the Rockets won, Smith made almost everything he threw up, 87% field goals. He had a game in which he had one rebound even though he played 21 minutes. That is who Josh Smith is now.
What has happened to Josh Smith since he left Atlanta? Was the Atlanta system, playing off a dynamic shooting guard, the magic formula for him? Without Joe Johnson these past two years Josh Smith has looked ordinary. His shooting of 41% is a career low. He can’t make three point shots but like a man obsessed with an idea, he continues to hoist them up like he’s Klay Thompson. HIs free throw shooting is oppressive and depressing, less than 50%. Truthfully, once Smith gets beyond 3 feet, his ability to score is anyone’s guess. Last year from 3-10 feet he was 34%. From 10-16 feet he was 32%. He made 31% of his long two point shots and 32% of his three point shots.
His rebounding has fallen off as well, from 8.4 total rebounds in 2012-13 to 6.8 rebounds in 2013-14, and last year it was 6.4 rebounds, the second lowest of his career.
So what were the Clippers thinking?
Cost. Josh Smith is cheap, coming in at the veterans minimum. Size. At 6-10 he provides length for the Clippers second unit and can play with the first unit if Deandre Jordan gets into foul trouble, or if, and when, the Clippers go small. Talent. Josh Smith is still a talented player when he is in one of his streaky moods as evidenced in Game 6 of the semi-final round when he made 4 out of 7 three point shots. Experience. Josh Smith was a high-schooler drafted by the Hawks. He has played in 836 NBA games, scored 12,000 points and grabbed 6,000 rebounds.
The addition of Smith gives the Clippers added versatility with their lineup as they can shuffle their personnel depending on foul situation, injuries and rhythm and flow of the game. The addition of Smith doesn’t vault the Clippers over the Spurs or the Warriors but it does shore up one of their weak spots, their bench.
Josh Smith joins Lance Stephenson, Jamaal Crawford, Big Baby Davis and Austin Rivers as the Clippers second unit, all streaky offensive players with the potential of a chemistry nightmare. Josh Smith fills the role of Spencer Hawes, a stretch four open for three point shooting which makes sense if Josh Smith could make three point shots. But it’s a gamble the Clippers, who are out of money, have to take.
In a tough Western Conference, though, Josh Smith coming to L.A. is interesting enough to get the tongues wagging but it’s hardly enough to make the Clippers anything other than what they were before Josh Smith arrived, a 4th or 5th seed.
photo via redarmy.com