The Josh Smith we saw in the regular season was a sight to behold. For the first time, he put together an extended stretch where he was locked in and playing to his strengths. He stopped shooting threes. He defended. He killed people in the post and in transition. The result? An all-star caliber season that should have been rewarded with an actual all-star berth.
Then, the playoffs came along, and Josh Smith reverted back into the old Josh Smith. Smith is still putting up very good numbers, don't get me wrong. While the per-game numbers are down, the advanced numbers (20.7 PER, 54.% true shooting percentage, etc) are still very good. But to steal a line from the great Bill Walton, the impact just isn't there. He's floating through games, not consistently imposing his will like he did in the regular season. He's complaining to referees and pouting when things don't go his way. He's committing untimely turnovers and otherwise standing around on offense instead of cutting to the basket.
And last night, his uninspired play arguably cost the Hawks a winnable game. SB Nation's Hawks blog Peachtree Hoops lit into Smith after the Hawks' fourth-quarter collapse.
It is fitting that the man was -24 for the game (worst on the team). Sure the final stats look ok, but he may have single handedly cost the game with fake injuries, pouting, lack of effort, and turnovers. Listen, I love Josh Smith, but he has no make up switch. There exists nothing in his person that inspires a vendetta like atmosphere on his own horrible actions. Josh is always right, and when he is wrong, it clearly does not matter. That is his mindset. I have never seen an above average starter play less like it was playoff basketball in my life than Josh did tonight. For all the Atlanta pride he speaks of and righteous gripes about talent under utilized, there was no excuse for Josh, and he has no reason to hold his head high when he dominates next year in January. This city will not get behind his poor effort, his fake fouls, his pouting. We pay money to watch you be great Josh. Intentionally being horrible is unacceptable. It is insulting. It makes people not show up to see that brilliance in Janurary. And that my friend is why you did not make an all-star game, and that is why you did not deserve to.
The best way to illustrate Smith's focus is to look at how many three-pointers he's attempting. In the past, Smith stubbornly launched too many threes, even though he's a career 27% shooter. From 2005 to 2009, Smith launched anywhere between 1.2 and 2.1 threes per game, and it killed his value. This year, however, he had an epiphany and only launched seven threes all season - and that includes a handful of end-of-quarter heaves that basically don't count. That, more than anything, vaulted Smith from being a talented headcase to one of the most dynamic players in the league.
In the playoffs? That's changed. The Hawks have played nine games, and Smith has already attempted five threes. Several of those three-point attempts have been in big spots too. In Game 5 of the Milwaukee series, with the game slipping away down the stretch, Smith launched a contested three that effectively killed any chance of the Hawks rallying. Last night, he took a key shot early in the fourth quarter that led to a Magic fast break. These are shots he stopped taking in the regular season, and all of a sudden, he's taking them again. It's not a coincidence that the Hawks have, by and large, played poorly in the playoffs as a result.
If the Hawks want any chance to come back in this series, Smith needs to be the kind of player he was in the regular season. We're running out of time to see that Smith again.