Josh Smith: Give him the credit he deserves
Drafted by the Atlanta Hawks as the 17th overall pick in the 2004 NBA Draft, Josh Smith made a mark in the league in his rookie season itself! He won the 2004 Slam Dunk Contest at the All-Star weekend, which was impressive for a rookie to achieve. However, after his rookie season, his talent was forgotten even though he kept his production steady and constantly improving.
Though his career graph shows a constant improvement, he didn’t garner the same attention from the league as Dwight Howard and Andre Iguodala did, both being part of the same draft year Smith was part of. Atlanta did not have a great team or record to go by but Smith took advantage of this and grabbed the attention of his home fans as he improved steadily through the early years.
In this constant climb, he had teammates who were growing and maturing as well and along with Joe Johnson, Al Horford and Jamal Crawford, were posing to become a strong team. They finally made it to the playoffs in 2008, only to be eliminated in the first round by the eventual champions Celtics.
During these years from his rookie season in 2004 till the Hawks first appearance in the new decade in 2008, Smith had improved his game to a level that he could maintain and ensure and be consistent at. His points per game improved from 9.4 to 17.2 ppg, a number he would be in and around the rest of his career that he was with the Hawks. His rebounding numbers too increased from 6.2 to 8.2 rpg.
His breakout season among these starting few years was the season of 06-07, where he averaged and 16.4 ppg and a career high 2.9 bpg. This was season where Joe Johnson had fallen victim to a season ending injury and Smith stood up to the challenge. He scored a career high 32 points to go along with 19 rebounds. He eclipsed that mark in the same season by scoring 38 in a road game against Bucks. This season just couldn’t get better for him (give that thought a second). The same season he became the youngest player ever to reach 500 blocks and also he became a regular with Hawks, starting all 72 games that he played and playing a career high number of minutes too.
First Playoff Appearance
The Hawks stretched the new look Celtics to 7 games. Game 1 and 2 were Celtic routs but Hawks won games 3 and 4 with their athleticism. Game 3 was bought a alive with Smith scoring 26 points, which included an array of dunks. He played a huge role in game 4, combining with Joe Johnson to score 34 of the last 36 Hawks points in the game where they came from behind with a rally and eventually win. Game 5 became a Boston domination; however Hawks rallied back to win game 6 but stood no chance in game 7 and were eliminated.
For a playoff debut series, Smith was 84% free throw shooter (outstanding for a player his height) and had a playoff career high 2.9 bpg.
Hawks Since Then
The following season they made it to the playoffs, a strong season once again for Smith. They beat the Heat in the first round only to be swept by LeBron James led Cavs in the second round. In the next season of 2009-10, they improved by 6 wins to finish 3rd, with 53 wins and only the Bulls and Cavs finishing ahead of them. It had once again to do with a terrific season from Smith. They once again reached the second round by beating the Bucks in 7 games only to be swept again, this time by the Magic.
These two seasons that Atlanta reached the second round, Smith had a strong postseason in both of them. He averaged 17.1 ppg along with 7.5 rpg in the 2009 playoffs. In the 2010 playoffs he averaged 14.1 ppg with then playoff career high of 9rpg.
Hawks postseason since the 2010 has only gone downwards as they finished lower and lower the following seasons at the end of the regular season. In 2011, they bowed out of the playoffs in the second round to the Bulls after beating the Magic in 6 games in the first round. However, repeated losses in the second round saw the Hawks losing Joe Johnson to the Brooklyn Nets and Jamal Crawford to the Clippers.
This increased the offensive burden on Smith and though his numbers did increase, he couldn’t lift them past the first round in the playoffs of 2012 and 2013. In 2012, Smith came big for his team, averaging a double double with 16.8 ppg and 13.6 rpg. The following year, Smith s numbers dropped due to injuries.
A Second Chance
Smith has received a second chance with his trade to move to the Motor City coming through. And with Brandon Jennings alongside Billups waiting already for Smith to arrive, we can rest assure that Smith will receive the attention he deserves in the coming season.