Brad’s Beat: Josh Smith’s Shooting Conundrum


Dec 8, 2012; Memphis, TN, USA; Atlanta Hawks small forward Josh Smith (5) shoots a free throw during the game against the Memphis Grizzlies at the FedEx Forum. The Atlanta Hawks defeated the Memphis Grizzlies 93-83. Mandatory Credit: Spruce Derden–USA TODAY Sports

Josh Smith has a problem. He is addicted to the long, two-point jump shot. It has been 4-plus weeks since I last tackled this issue in a longer, more detailed format, and the data has been forming in a fascinating (and maddening) way. As you may remember (from the post on Nov. 13), there were some stats (example: Josh was 4 for 18 in the early games on long jump shots, and then shot 11 long two-point shots on the previous night), and even a reference to a semi-full Philips Arena crowd screaming “NOOO!!!!!!!” every time Josh even gathered to take a jump shot. Well, the issue hasn’t ceased, and in fact, the debate has elevated due to some curious trends in Josh’s game. Let’s take a look at what has transpired.

Because I value the fact that I am “fair and balanced” (and so is SDS in general), I will begin with the positive.

3-point shooting is NOT the issue for Josh Smith.

Does that sound crazy? Isn’t the 3-ball always referenced when people moan and groan about Smith’s shot selection? Well, consider these facts. Josh Smith is shooting an astounding 46% from 3-point distance through the first 17 games of the 2012-2013 season. Due to the fact that Josh’s career 3-point percentage is 28.4% and that he has never shot better than 33.1% in any full season, we can safely assume that 46+% is unsustainable, but with that being said, there’s a legitimate possibility that Josh has turned a mini-corner with regard to his 3-point (italics for a reason) shooting. If he were able to make even 35% of his three-point attempts, I would never question him shooting an open three ever again. In fact, he’s already reached the point (with me, at least) where I don’t scream and yell at him shooting a three unless he is a) covered closely by a defender, or b) not squared up to the basket and set. I repeat, 3-point shooting is NOT the issue for Josh Smith.

Josh Smith’s true shooting percentage (an offensive metric that incorporates field goals, 3-pointers, and free throw percentage) is the lowest of his career at 48.3%.

You’re thinking to yourself (as I did upon seeing this stat in the first place), how is it possible that Smith is shooting 18% higher than his career average on threes and still posting the lowest TS% of his career? The answer comes in three parts, and we will take them one at a time.

The first, and most overlooked, aspect of this calamity is Josh’s free throw shooting. No one would mistake Smith for Mark Price (Georgia Tech hoops reference!) at the free throw line, but his career free throw percentage is a disappointing, but not dreadful, 66.7%. This season, Smith is converting a Shaq-like 53.7% of his free throw attempts, and when you consider that he’s taking nearly 4 per game, it makes a significant impact on his game and his offensive efficiency. It is no coincidence that Smith was able to post the highest TS% of his career in 2010-11 because it also doubled as his greatest free-throw shooting season when he made 72.5% of his attempts.

Secondly, Smith is shooting more shots from worse positions than in previous years. In 2011-12, Smith attempted 5.4 shots per game at the rim (68% shooting), 2.4 shots per game from 3-9 feet (38%), and 0.7 shots per game from 10-15 feet (31%). This season, Josh is attempting 4.6 shots per game at the rim (78.5% shooting), 3.5 shots per game from 3-9 feet (41%), and 0.8 shots per game from 10-15 feet (21%). As you can see, Josh’s specialty in the scoring part of his game is his ability to finish at the rim. He has actually increased his shot-making at the rim this season, but he has done so on nearly a full attempt less per game, while increasing his attempts at less-efficient distances of 3-9 and 10-15 feet. These numbers aren’t as definitive as his free-throw issues, but there’s no denying the impact that pushing him out from under the rim can make.

The final issue is the most significant. Smith has simply been unable to convert on long, two-point attempts this season, and as a result of his refusal to stop taking these shots, his percentages have suffered greatly. He is shooting a ghastly 21% from the field on 10-15 foot jump shots (lowest of his career), and an even more disastrous 26% on attempts from 16-23 feet. To speak on Josh’s behalf, I firmly believe that these numbers would not persist all season, even with identical usage. He has never shot this poorly from either distance, and there’s no argument that he’s a worse shooter now than he was in previous seasons. The biggest problem for Smith is one that overrides for each and every player in the NBA. The jump shot from 16-23 feet is the least efficient and least productive shot in all of basketball. Advances in statistical analysis in previous years have shown us that the 3-pointer is an extremely valuable shot, but these studies have also shown us that long 2-pointers, as a result of their difficult distance coupled with no added benefit of a 3rd point, can kill offensive efficiency. To be fair to Josh in 2012-2013, the number of attempts from the 16-23 foot distance has actually decreased from 6.3 per game last year (which would’ve placed him SECOND in the entire league in attempts from that distance) to a more manageable 4.7 attempts this season. Unfortunately, the numbers have decreased even further instead of becoming more efficient, and that is likely the result of more “creation” and Josh’s part as only 57% of his attempts from that distance have been assisted this season, compared to nearly 76% of the same attempts in 2011-2012 and a staggering 85% of those attempts in 2010-2011.

What does this all mean? Frankly, the majority of educated Hawks fans (and basketball fans in general) already know that Josh Smith takes too many jump shots. The prevailing issue is that he specifically takes too many long two-point jump shots and that his 3-point usage is not the problem. Part of his decline in percentage during the current season can likely be tied to an increased offensive workload on the creation side, as Joe Johnson is no longer there to take the shot-clock beating shots that he was accustomed to taking, but the entire drop in efficiency can’t be tied to this. It is exasperating as a Hawks supporter and someone who covers the team to see Smith’s incredible effectiveness at the rim (78%!), and still witness Josh hoisting contested 18-footers. With that said, there seems to be an organizational plan to allow Smith to continue to attempt these shots at will in favor of “all of the other things” that he can do in order to keep him happy. My suggestion and assurance would be that if Smith traded in the 18-foot jump shot for additional attacks at the rim and/or creation for his teammates (as a very, very good passer), he would take a leap in his game to a place where no pundit could craft 1,200 words questioning his overall offensive deployment.

Here’s the information, Josh. It’s in your (and Larry Drew’s) hands.