All that Josh Smith can be

“I feel like I’m a max player. I feel I bring a lot to the table. I have a lot of versatility. For what I do and what I give this ball club, I feel like I’m worth it.” – Josh Smith, to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Josh Smith, a free agent this offseason, believes that he is worthy of receiving the biggest contract teams can offer him. If he got his max contract, about $16.5 million per year, he would become the 15th highest paid player in the league. Is Josh Smith really that good?

Any analysis of Smith’s game should begin on the defensive end. With his 6’9” and 225 lbs. frame, he possesses an uncommon combination of size, speed and mental dexterity that allows him to effectively guard multiple positions. Defense is notoriously difficult to quantitatively assess, but Bradford Doolittle’s latest attempt to measure perimeter defense ranked Josh Smith the best in the league, ahead of elite wing-stoppers like Andre Iguodala and Tony Allen. Despite being a bit small for a power forward, Smith is a pretty effective post defender as well. In 96 post-ups this year (according to mySynergySports), Smith’s opponents only shoot 38.5%. He also fouls very rarely, 6.3% of the time, while (along with his team) causing a turnover on a full 25% of post-up attempts.

Smith is averaging 1.3 steals and 2.3 blocks per 36 minutes this year, which is right in line with his career averages. The only other players to do that for their careers are Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Ben Wallace and Andrei Kirilenko, winners of a combined seven Defensive Player of the Year awards and 26 All-Defensive Team selections. Smith has been voted to the NBA’s All-Defensive 2nd Team once, and he probably should have made it a

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HoopSpeak Network

The big trade that makes too much sense

The Lakers and Magic need to make a trade. No, not the one you’ve heard so much about, the one that swaps Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum. This one actually makes sense. Perhaps … too much sense.

Pau Gasol for Ryan Anderson (sign and trade) and JJ Redick.

What? A non-star in exchange Pau Gasol?!

Relax.

See, the issue with the Lakers isn’t exactly that they aren’t good enough as the team currently constituted, it’s that they can’t afford this team or any team that includes three max contract players. That’s because, unlike every other team in the NBA, one of those max players, a mister Kobe Bryant, is due to collect $83 million over the next three seasons.

Unless the Lakers want to find themselves deep, deep in the luxury tax imposed by the new CBA (to the tune of say $30 million) they need to find a way to win with two max contract stars. That’s why any deal for Pau, who appears to be the odd man out, will necessarily bring back either a short term contract or a few smaller contracts.

So now the Lakers thinking should be: what kind of player do we need to pair with Bryant and especially Bynum, who is 24, so that over the length of their careers we can be as awesome as possible. Well both those guys play in the post, neither shoots 3’s particularly well and if we’ve learned one thing from the past few years, it’s that a stretch four who can shoot 3’s and rebound almost always has an awesome plus/minus. Ryan Anderson checks all those boxes in a double permanent no erasies way, plus he’s a competent defender and because he came into the league at age 20, he also is only 24.

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I miss the Atlanta Hawks

That was such a “Hawks way” to lose, wasn’t it? The term is pejorative, despite Atlanta’s insistence on remaining decent, year after year. Everything they do is framed negatively. Like the Spurs-as-boring, LeBron-as-choker, or possibly, Blake-as-flopper, Hawks-as-disappointing is an article of faith.

Perhaps it’s the crowd. The “Highlight Factory” is an echo chamber of murmurs. It’s hard to feel inspired by that kind of backdrop. There’s also Marvin Williams, who plays on for the team as a haunting reminder of what could have been (Chris Paul, Deron Williams). There’s Joe Johnson and his contract. There’s Josh Smith, the incandescent talent who makes some brilliant plays, and some decisions so awful that they require a certain genius to even conceive of.

But despite all that disappoints, the Hawks keep trotting out a roster that Golden State Warriors fans would bob apples in boiling water for. This is a good team. This is an exciting team. When you forget the external and focus on the players, divorced from expectations, the Hawks are what’s right with hoops.

They fight hard, scrapping admirably despite losing nearly their entire frontcourt mid-series against the Celtics. They managed to finish fourth place in the Eastern Conference, despite losing their best player for all but 11 games. Jeff Teague shoots through defenses with the speed and inexorability of a sun ray, squirming through adjoined boulders. Al Horford remains a highly-skilled player and so does Josh Smith, but the two have wholly different skill sets. “Iso Joe” is a diss, but Johnson couldn’t pull the act off without having such a sticky handle for a guard his size.

Not everybody can win the title, only four teams have a shot most years. So why not embrace consistent competence? The Hawks give you that, and have since 2007. They probably

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NBA Playoffs: Adjustments for ATL-BOS, LAL-DEN

Notes on Tuesday night’s games. For my thoughts on how Chicago should play without Derrick Rose, click here.

Atlanta Hawks (1-0) vs. Boston Celtics (0-1)

The Celtics find themselves perilously close to facing a 2-0 deficit thanks to the suspension of Rajon Rondo and uncertain health of Ray Allen. The big question facing Boston is where they will find offense in the absence of two of their best creators. The answer honest to that question is simple; they won’t. Going into Game 2 the C’s main focus should be on slowing the pace, limiting possessions and doing their best to keep the game in the 70s.

Larry Drew, meanwhile, should be making any minor tweak he can to his scheme and lineups to do the exact opposite. To ensure a two game lead before heading to Boston, Drew must implore his troops to continue playing up-tempo and forcing a short-handed Celtics team to score with them. Jason Collins justified his minutes (and his mixtape) with his traditionally sublime post defense on Kevin Garnett, but Atlanta may want to go smaller with Josh Smith at the 5 in an attempt to make this game as much of a track meet as possible.

When Atlanta is in the halfcourt, they should use far more pick-and-rolls and much less isolation. Boston had quite a bit of difficultly keeping Jeff Teague out of the paint and Smith has been a terror as a dive man on the pick-and-roll. The Hawks should really only seek isolations when Smith has the chance to attack Brandon Bass or Greg Stiemsma in the mid-post.

The offensive explosion the Hawks had in the first half was mostly a mirage produced by Smith and a host of others making long, 2-point jumpers. To compound matters, Drew also seemed content to

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Maybe Carmelo Anthony is worse than Josh Smith

Carmelo Anthony is a starting forward in the All Star game, despite playing for a team that leavens empty promises with broken dreams. Despite how his old team got dramatically better after trading him. Despite how he’s shooting near 40%. And despite those despites, Charles Barkley was shushed on Inside the NBA for naming Josh Smith as a possible alternative to Melo, the mainstay. Apostasy!

There has been a bit of revisionist history regarding the Anthony trade, by the way. It is now known as the Great Denver Talent Haul. Way back in 2011, this was not the case. The Knicks had killed the Nuggets by procuring this deal. Denver had sadly been forced to swap “50 cents on the dollar,” thus dooming Colorado’s Pepsi Center to be the NBA’s haunted, vacant, blood-sloshed Stanley Hotel. All role players, no playoffs, makes George Karl a…

Well we know it worked out in the exact opposite manner. Now the Knicks look haunted, the Nuggets look liberated, and Mike D’Antoni’s seat is hot enough to curdle a diamond. And yet, there is a hesitancy to radically reassess our valuation system. The new story is about how the sum of Denver’s parts exceeded a single star’s worth. And while there is certainly merit to this trope, why aren’t more people asking whether Carmelo Anthony is even a star? Is it possible that Denver’s as much cured of Melo as they are well-compensated for his absence?

Carmelo Anthony is a one-way offensive player, whose new team is flailing on that end. Right now, he has a career high usage rate of 30.8 and the Knicks are 24th in offensive efficiency. Denver is second in offensive efficiency, all without his help. They also are fifth in defensive efficiency.

Let’s look at Josh Smith’s situation

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Chicago goes to the half court trap to trip up Hawks

Judging by the Atlanta Hawk’s defensive energy and focus, you wouldn’t have guessed they were on the second game in a brutal back to back that began with the Heat. But with 7 minutes left in the third, Atlanta was in absolute control of the Chicago Bulls. The offense wasn’t exactly humming, but certainly grinding. Snappy ball-movement and running Joe Johnson in swooping circles around a series of screeners was giving the Bulls fits. When the Bulls’ aggressive big men hedged to Johnson, Josh Smith and Al Horford quickly slipped back door for alley-oops.

When a team is getting pounded, sage commentators intone that the team “needs to change something.” Really, sometimes a team only needs to make open shots, or take better care of the ball. Certainly either would have helped the Bulls, but it wasn’t just execution–the Hawks were taking it to them. They were beating them to loose balls, disrupting the Bulls already choppy offense and abusing the Bulls defensive philosophy with clever reads.

The Bulls won 61 games last season, and will win a whole bunch this year because night in and night out, they simply play harder and more aggressively than their competition.

So in an apparent effort to reclaim that identity, coach Tom Thibodeau unleashed a half court trap in the second half that dramatically shifted the flow of the game. With all those long and fast players, the Bulls second unit–which often includes Luol Deng– is a near perfect group for trapping.

But the Bulls debuted the trap with Carlos Boozer, of all people, on top. That’s because the goal wasn’t to get deflections and steals, but to divert the Hawks theretofore flowing offense into channels unaccustomed to handle the volume of offensive responsibility, and to burn precious seconds off the clock

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Zach Attacks: The Hawks and Kumite DVDs

Over the next 15 days, I’ll be releasing a random essay on each team in the league. This post is about the Atlanta Hawks. You can follow the series with the “2011-12 Team Previews” and “Zach Attacks” tags at the bottom of the page.

I have spent a lot of money in my life on a DVD collection that isn’t exactly making the American Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences feel overly covetous.
I’ve been known to drop $20 on The Wash or Soul Plane, sort of as a sick joke that my friends and I can use as humorous fodder during any given get together. It’s not something that I’m necessarily proud of. God knows there are times I glance at the shelves of DVDs and think, “why do I have three copies of Rounders? How did that happen? Did I not know I already had a copy of Hoosiers before I bought the deluxe edition?”

“Dear god, what will they think of me when they see Slammin’ Salmon is available to watch in my apartment?!”

To paraphrase the great Patrick Ewing during the 1998 lockout, “I waste a lot of money because I don’t have a lot of money,” or something like that. Continue reading “Zach Attacks: The Hawks and Kumite DVDs” »

Atlanta’s new pick and roll defense

The Magic can exhale after grinding out a hard-fought win versus a feisty Hawks team in Game 2. Despite tying up the series, Dwight Howard and company still head to Atlanta with some serious concerns. Aided by Jason Collins continuing ability to turn Orlando’s resident Superman into a turnover machine of Joel Prybilla-esque proportions, the Magic have experienced some startling drops in their offensive efficiency. But Collins’ defense isn’t the only reason Orlando has seen a nine point drop in both their scoring average and three point percentage from the regular season. The Magic’s vaunted pick and roll game has been stifled quite a bit by a creative Hawks defense.

One of the Magic’s favorite pick and roll alignments is a spread set with Turkoglu (or Nelson) coming off a high screen from Howard in the middle of the floor, the two guard in the corner (Richardson or Redick), Nelson (or Turkoglu if ball handling roles are switched) on the weak side wing, with floor spacing big man Ryan Anderson in the weak side corner.

The most common way teams would defend this is to have their big man sag back and protect the paint, giving ground to the ball handler as his defender trails over the top of the screen. They would then look to jam the rolling big man with the low weak side defender (X4) who would step in while the other weak side defender (X1) would play halfway between the corner and the wing. The strong side defender (X2) would stick tight to his man and not allow for an easy drive and kick for a corner three.

The Hawks, however, have befuddled Orlando on this action by straying from conventional wisdom and bringing help from the strong side. On the ball handler’s

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