Clippers’ Career: Craig Smith arrived in LA in the summer of 2009, traded to the Clippers as part of the Quentin Richardson trade. He then spent two years on the team, playing in over 120 games as a key reserve. Craig became a fan favorite due to his hustle, energy, and scoring ability around the basket. Nicknamed the Rhino, Craig was a fun player to watch, and was quite effective for what he was—a backup power forward with little positional versatility. To the disappointment of Clippers’ fans, Smith was allowed to walk in the summer of 2011, when he signed with the Trailblazers on a minimum deal.
2011-2012: Sadly, Smith came to the Blazers in a lost season. The Blazers were mired in chemistry issues, and their on-court talents didn’t mesh any better. Smith played in just 47 games, and averaged less than 10 minutes per game. His numbers were still solid, but his per-36 stats fell considerably compared to his previous few seasons, and his NBA future clearly stood in doubt.
2012-2013: Craig Smith moved to Europe, signing with Hapoel Jerusalem in Israel, a second-tier overseas league. Still relatively in his prime, it was expected that Smith would be one of the best players in Europe, much less Israel. Instead, he fell out with his coach, arguing over minutes and usage, and leaving the team in March. While he averaged 13.4 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, Smith clearly felt he could have contributed more, and sniped with the staff. The head coach, meanwhile, thought that Smith was an underwhelming addition, and a rebellious locker room presence.
After that horrible experience, Smith went to play for the Hong Kong Bulls, where he absolutely dominated. Scoring 30.5 points per game and pulling down 13.5 rebounds, Smith was one of the first wave of ex-NBA players to head to China and see success. As always, numbers in China should be taken with a very large grain of salt, but Smith could still clearly play basketball at a high level.
2013-2014: Craig sat out most of the 2013-2014 season. Whether he was waiting for better offers that never came, just wanted time off, or was even contemplating an early retirement, Smith didn’t sign with a team until March of 2014. Joining the D-League for the first time, Smith signed with the Sioux Falls Skyforce for the stretch run, playing eight regular season games and five in the playoffs. He played very well both in the regular and postseason, scoring in the mid-teens and pulling down a lot of boards. Always an efficient scorer around the basket, Smith was a force, and helped Sioux Falls make the semifinals.
2014-2015: Craig Smith, two plus years removed from his last NBA game and now in his 30s, still wanted to make a comeback to the best basketball league in the world. However, even though he played well in Summer League, no NBA offer came, and he went back to Israel, this time signing with Ironi Nes-Ziona. His second stint in Israel went far, far better than his first one, however, as he played 24 games for Ironi, and was their best player by far. Smith scored 20 points per game, and did so incredibly efficiently—he shot 65.4% from the field, and got to the line almost 8 times per game. That’s simply outstanding, especially considering that Smith is a solid free throw shooter (73.5%). While Ironi isn’t a top-tier team, those numbers would be great anywhere.
Finale/Legacy: To my knowledge, Smith hasn’t played professional basketball since 2015. While he was eager for an NBA contract in 2014, it’s possible that even after his standout season with Ironi, he didn’t want to play overseas anymore. Or maybe he just wanted to retire for good. Either way, his playing days are almost certainly over.
Craig Smith was an interesting player because he was a very old-school power forward. He had no jumpshot (even from midrange), and his game was predicated around “garbage points” around the basket (at least in the NBA). Not much of a rebounder or a rim-protector, Smith was too small and limited defensively to play center. In today’s NBA, it would be tough for him to defend power forwards, as they increasingly play out on the perimeter, and Smith is too slow to cover guys out there. Without rim protection and no outside game, it’s quite possible that Smith, if he were drafted today, wouldn’t have had an NBA career at all. It’s good his career happened when it did.