Game 6 Trigger Warning: WARNING—this 2015-2016 player preview contains links, videos, and related acknowledgements that the fourth quarter of Game 6 of the 2015 Western Conference semifinals actually happened. Readers that may not have fully recovered from the trauma of Game 6 (or simply the trauma of watching multiple Corey Brewer jumpers) may wish to skip to the end of this post, or simply re-watch this over and over again. Those seeking further help are welcome to join the support group I launched two summers ago, the "Game 5 Never Happened/Can We Frame Tony Brothers For Murder Network For Healing."
Name: Josh Smith (aka J-Smoove)
Position: SF/PF, and maybe C for small-ball lineups
Experience: 11 years
Contract Status: 1 yr/$1.5 million veteran's minimum from us. But Smoove has diversified his income streams.
Risk and Reward
It's rare that both casual fans and League Pass literati heap praise on the same personnel move (assuming that move doesn't involve the Spurs). Despite a year and a half of his misadventures in Detroit, Smith's star power and athleticism still had the wattage to make most fans turn their heads when the Clippers announced he would help anchor their second unit this summer. Cap nerds spit Mountain Dew onto their pivot tables when Doc gleefully announced the terms of the deal. The Clippers signed the 29-year old Smith to the veteran's minimum. Doc paid Hedo Turkoglu roughly the same amount of money last year as he's paying Josh Smith. I assume Doc's still faxing pictures of his butt to Daryl Morey as we speak.
Part of the reason Smith signed such a cheap deal with the Clippers stems from his unique situation with Detroit. The Pistons waived him early last season and are still paying this year for most of his car, house, and crippling sweater addiction.
The Smoove signing was undoubtedly a coup for it's value. But for the very reason it was perhaps Doc's best deal of the summer, it was also one of his riskiest.
Smith joins Lance Stephenson and (to a lesser extent) Austin Rivers on the "which guy are we getting here?" Clipper All-Stars. Are we getting the Smoove who served as a valuable role player for the Rockets that could set the table for other scorers and use his athleticism to adequately defend pick and rolls? Or are we getting the Smoove who's compulsion to hoist three's and tendency to drift off defensively sunk his value and reputation in Detroit?
Count me as still mystified why Smith didn't resign with the Rockets, which could have offered him more money and where he enjoyed a strong friendship with Dwight Howard. (Yes, I know the Clippers front office called him everyday, but still...). Also count me as mystified by the phrase "strong friendship with Dwight Howard".
Of Three's and Free-Throws
Tell me if this sounds familiar.
Game 6 of the Western Conference Semifinals, Clippers up nine with about seven minutes to play. Josh Smith sets himself behind the arc and drains a three, cutting the lead to six.
Your Brain: "We can live with Josh Smith shooting 3's."
Your Heart: "You're right, brain. Josh Smith can't shoot 3's."
A minute later, Smith drains another three, this time cutting the lead to five.
Your Brain: "We can live with Josh Smith shooting 3's."
Your Heart: "I don't feel well."
Fast forward to less than two minutes left. The Rockets have improbably climbed back to a six point lead. Smith rises up from deep for the dagger...
Your Brain: "Kirk Goldsberry is full of shit."
Your Heart: "Please...stop...doing...this...to...me"
The Game 6 Post-Game Press Conference
Smith's Game 6 performance aside, you can guarantee all of Staples Center will collectively shudder whenever Smoove jacks from deep, and not just from the PTSD. The "Josh Smith can't shoot three's" meme, as true as it may be, has been so played out that even people who don't know the first thing about basketball know it's a bad basketball play.
The thing is, Smith wasn't as terrible as you would think from deep when he was in Houston's free-flowing offense. If I told you Josh Smith would shoot the same percentage this year from three as Draymond Green, you'd probably take it in a heartbeat. Last season in Houston, Smith did nearly that (Smith was 33.0% in Houston, Draymond 33.7%).
To be clear, in NO WAY am I suggesting that Josh Smith should shoot three's. I am suggesting that, in today's small-ball pace and space 3-point happy NBA, he's going to find himself behind the arc with open looks. If he can replicate what he did in Houston while still prioritizing getting into the paint and facilitating for others, it would be a great offensive boon for the Clippers. Smith should also be less inclined to chuck from deep if Doc is true to his word and plays Smith at the five every now and then, or pairs him with Griffin.
Russo did a fantastic job detailing how the Clippers might utilize Smith in their offensive sets--do check out that film room session when you get the chance. I am going to steal this gif though to talk about what awesomeness Smith might bring to the table if Griffin needs rest or is in foul trouble.
Does this look familiar?
Here's a hint...
Along with Griffin, Smith is one of the best lob-tossing big men in the game. Pairing him with DeAndre, much like he was frequently paired with Howard when he was healthy in Houston, means we won't suffer the drop-off in athleticism and versatility that would happen when Spencer Hawes or Big Baby would enter the game alongside any of our starters.
The only problem with leaving Smith and DeAndre on the floor is one obvious to anyone who had to set an additional 6 hours on their DVR when recording the Clippers-Rockets series.
In 2010-2011, Smith shot 72% from the stripe. Since then: 63% in '11-12, 51% in '12-'13, 53% in '13-'14, and a career-low 50% last season.
Doc may be confronted with some tough decisions about how to use Smith late in games, especially if paired with DeAndre.
I'm going to pull a Jamal and let other people cover for me on this one. Again, check out Russo's piece.
Best Case Scenario
Smith picks up right where he left off in Houston, adding a spark of athleticism and playmaking off the bench and helping anchor a surprisingly selfless and effective bench unit. His outside shooting is disciplined, and when he does take 3's he shoots them at an acceptable clip. He spends late evenings betting tens of thousands of dollars in free throw shooting contests with his close friend Jamal Crawford, and the resulting damage to his pocketbook forces him to improve. On defense, he sheds some of the bad habits he developed in Houston and Detroit and excels at helping off the ball and mitigating stretch fours. When opposing fans watch Smith with the Clippers, the common reaction is, "that's Atlanta Josh Smith."
Worst Case Scenario
Smith struggles out of the gate with shooting and turnovers, and Doc becomes increasingly frustrated with repeat defensive lapses. Doc begins curtailing Smith's minutes, a la the Spencer Hawes experiment, and an increasingly unhappy Smith starts griping publicly he did not expect to play eight minutes a night when he took less money to play for a contender. Staples Center boos every time Smith even pump fakes a three. Right before the trade deadline, the Clippers waive Smith, who immediately signs again with the Rockets. In the Western Conference semifinals, the Clippers lead the Rockets by 126 points late in the fourth of Game 6 when Smith finds himself alone at the top of the arc....
As always, a Boniface Ndong-sized thank you to Connor Carroll, Clip Nation's artist in residence.