After clearing waivers on Friday, December 26, 2014, forward Josh Smith signed a one-year, $2 million contract with the Houston Rockets. Daryl Morey and the Rockets used part of their bi-annual exception to sign Smith, one of the reasons he was so widely predicted to go to Houston. This extra money above the minimum salary that most teams would and could offer likely tipped the scales in their favor.
Now that it’s all said and done, what will Smith bring to the Rockets? Houston is the favorite of most stat-based analysis fanatics and their shot chart shows why.
As you can see above, the Rockets have installed a very “modern” type of offense and shot selection. This isn’t new, so I don’t mean that this is recent, but when compared with a team that has similar success on offense but a very different approach, it is much easier to pinpoint the differences. Houston has an extreme lack of mid-range shots and prefers to shoot at the basket or behind the three-point line. The Washington Wizards have a much more standard approach to offense, taking open shots where they appear and having players that actually prefer mid-range to long-range.
Washington’s chart feels much less clustered. Their shots are spread around the court. I won’t get too far into what the general upsides and downsides of each approach are. Our question to answer right now is can the Rockets install Josh Smith into this offense.
Everyone’s first thought is…well no. Smith is known for his terrible shot selection and that hasn’t changed much in his career. There was only one season where he got far far away from the three, in 2009-10 when he took less than 0.1 3PA per game. Interestingly enough, what is roundly considered Smith’s best season, 2011-12, he took the same amount of threes per game and a similar percentage as so far this season. This likely encouraged his shot selection woes that have continued since then.
Smith has always had a good game around the basket, but has been wary to take shots in the close mid-range/post-up type area. He prefers to drift out and take long 2’s and the occasional 3.1 Regardless, with Smith’s strengths and weakness on the court, it would seem a strange fit for the Rockets to attempt to install a player like this into their offense. But, Monta Ellis found a way to become efficient with a good team around him. No one should underestimate the power having quality teammates has on both the player’s psyche and their ability.
This season, Smith has been up to his 2011-12 ways, at least in attempts. His percentages behind the arc are similar, the issue arises in this percentages around the hoop and from the free throw line where he is shooting 44.1% within 8 feet and 48.2% from the line. Smith isn’t bereft of skill however, he is shooting above 50% within 5-feet of the basket. It is from 5-9 feet that Smith is struggling most, shooting 31.5%.
Luckily, there has already been a test run. Smith played his first game for the Rockets on Friday night against the Memphis Grizzlies. I neither expected nor was I surprised by the results. 9-21 from the floor for 21 points with 8 rebounds and sadly 2 three-point attempts in 32 minutes. A solid, if unimpressive line from the 6’9″ forward and a points total he has surpassed just twice this season.
It looks like the Rockets are going to give Smith his shots. They aren’t afraid to let Smith work out his issues on the floor, but I can assure you that Morey and the newly extended McHale are going to drill into him that he needs to get to the basket as much as possible. I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the things they allow is Smith to take some amount of threes. It might not be the best decision in the short-term, but there are two upsides. He MIGHT develop a shot (Bosh has developed a three-point shot later in his career), but more likely, they can refine him as they go without attempting to make wholesale changes that might shock him.
I’m very intrigued to see where this experiment goes. The Rockets took a very low-cost gamble and could come up very big if this works out. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Comeback Player of the Year award out of Smith. Hell, he could get it for coming back from a terrible start to the season all by itself.
Occasional for Josh Smith is still too many ↩