The transformation from a remarkably athletic, but erratic rookie to a veteran that’s vital to the Atlanta Hawks playoff success wasn’t a path filled with roses.
The maturation process, however, has been a beautiful evolution to watch.
The Hawks are on pace to win 50 games for the first time since 1998, but Josh Smith has been surprisingly absent from the accolades associated with being a major cog on an elite team.
Teammates Joe Johnson and Al Horford were selected to the 2010 NBA All-Star game, yet when Allen Iverson withdrew from the contest to tend to his ailing daughter, New York Knicks Center David Lee received the vacant spot.
Smith was snubbed for a player with better individual statistics, but one who also played on a sub .500 squad surrounded by less overall talent.
Atlanta’s top off-season acquisition, Jamal Crawford, has been labeled “The Difference” and is the top candidate to win NBA Sixth Man of the Year. Crawford has flourished in his new role with the Hawks and leads the league in scoring among players that haven’t started a game.
Strangely, Smith who’s having a career year is being lost in the mix, despite being featured in a plethora of highlight reel footage.
Smith’s impact goes far beyond flashy breakaway dunks.
Smith ranks fourth in the league in blocked shots and is the only player in the league averaging at least 15 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists. He also became the youngest player in NBA history to record 1,000 career blocked shots earlier this season.
The greatest improvement in Smith’s game is revamped shot selection.
After averaging 94 3-point hoists per season since entering the league, he’s only attempted 7 through 68 games of the 2010 season.
Smith has also replaced his penchant for frequent, but low efficient long range jumpers to an assortment of post moves, which has led to his best field goal shooting percentage as a pro.
The Hawks have launched a Defensive Player of the Year campaign website for Smith. Even if he falls short of that target at the very least an All-Defensive team selection should be guaranteed.
At 6’9 he’s the tallest player in the top 10 in steals and shortest in the top 10 in blocks.
There are numerous factors in the Hawks rise to consistent contender status, but Smith’s contributions shouldn’t be placed on the backburner and ignored.
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