The Josh Smith Dilemma


November 23, 2012; Charlotte, NC, USA; Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith (5) after being called for a foul during the game against the Charlotte Bobcats at Time Warner Cable Arena. Hawks win 101-91. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Smith is an enigma, both on and off the court. And truth is, there’s really no way around that.

But the same is true of any player worth noting. Star players are typically polarizing in some form or fashion. While polarizing is a bit of an understatement for Josh at this point, you get my drift.

That said, what good is all the uncertainty surrounding Smith’s future unless we can speculate wildly until we’re inevitably proven wrong. So naturally I’m going to invite you on a little journey into what I’m calling “The Josh Smith dilemma”. Or insomnia. Your choice.

However, as it is with any dilemma, there are positives and negatives. Both of which are glaringly, and I mean glaringly, present on Smith’s resume.

Also, seeing as Smoove seems to be so keen on threes, it would only be appropriate to lump those respective categories into threes.

We’ll start with the negatives, just to put everyone in the holiday spirit.

1. Never give a frontcourt player who relies on his athleticism a max contract.

If we’ve learned anything from the Derrick Rose’s or Grant Hill’s in history, it’s that athleticism is a gift that’s never guaranteed.

Now settle down. I know Josh Smith is only 27. I know he has yet to, or is only just now, entering his NBA prime. But it doesn’t change that fact that the entirety of Smith’s offensive arsenal is dependent on his explosive first step.

Plus, it’s easy to forget because of Smith’s age that he’s already been in the league for eight years. And while that’s fine now, just think about him on the back half of a six-year deal growing increasingly reliant on his sorry mid-range game.

Obviously this reason is entirely circumstantial, and Smith has no major injuries worth noting in his past. But regardless, if Smith were to lose a step for any number of reasons, he doesn’t exactly have the dream shake in his back pocket.

2. Enigmatic

Does he want to be in Atlanta in the first place? At this point, your guess is just as good as mine.

He recently said he was happy with the direction of the team under new GM Danny Ferry. But, I mean, it’s Josh Smith.

3. Not a number one option.

Josh Smith is a hybrid of Andre Iguodala in my mind. He’s an all-star caliber player, capable of stuffing the stat sheet with the best of them on any given night. But he’s not a guy who you can trust with the ball in his hands down the stretch and he’s certainly not consistent enough to lean on when the team is struggling. He’s not a superstar, and chances are he never will be.

— Just because I’m a positive guy.

1. Intangibles.

If you’ve ever seen old Larry Bird or Magic Johnson highlights, you understand what intangibles are. And if you’ve ever seen a Hawks game you know it’s what Smith brings to the table.

His impact is almost always felt beyond the box score, namely on the defensive end. He’s disruptive in the passing lanes, a ball hawk in the paint, and is capable of closing down one side of the court when he really wants to. His career averages of over 2 blocks and a steal per game can attest to that.

He’s also one of the leagues premier passing big men. Well, when he want’s to be. He’s got outstanding vision in transition and off the low block. At times it’s misplaced, but it doesn’t take a basketball purist to see that Smith as an innate feel for the game.

Instincts can take you a long way in basketball. If you let them.

2. Hawks lifer

Even Kobe Bryant had times when he wanted out of Los Angeles. But I have a feeling if you asked him now, he wouldn’t trade purple and gold for the world.

The point is, sometimes a player shapes a franchise, other times a franchise shapes a player.

Smith called the Hawks organization home for the last eight years after Atlanta took a chance on a local kid straight out of high school.

He may not realize it now, but if he stays, and Atlanta fully embraces him as their future, I can almost guarantee it will translate to his maturation on the court.

Smith has seen the evolution of Atlanta’s basketball culture. That’s priceless.

3. Time shall make you wise, young jump shooter.

Josh Smith is one of the most imposing and physically gifted athletes in the league today.So I think it’s safe to say Hawks’ nation is still shaking their heads, eight years later, at Smith’s shot selection. I mean, if you can call it a shot selection.. I think selection implies that shots are actually selected. Okay, I’m stopping. Positive here, remember?

The point I’m making is, Lebron James, a similarly athletic specimen also spent the first eight years of his career settling for jumpers far more often than he should have. Then, he suddenly realized that it’s actually legal to just drive the lane or post up every single time. It led him to a championship, a Finals MVP, league MVP and Olympic gold medal.

If Smith, God help us, ever has that realization. He could finally start to capitalize on the immense ceiling we know he has.

— Whew, if you actually took the time to read all of that.. sorry, I ramble. But I’ll leave you with the question that’s been rolling around in the back of my mind the last few months.

Do you think the Hawks can win a championship with Josh Smith?

After all, that’s what it’s all about.