As Josh Smith cleared the waivers on Thursday, he is expected to sign with the Houston Rockets anytime now. Smith joins longtime good buddy Dwight Howard in a Rockets’ team that is already one of the best teams of the young NBA season. But while Smith should add more depth and talent to the team, do they really need to add Josh Smith to their line-up?
A Personal Choice
The main reason why Smith is joining the Rockets is Dwight Howard. Smith and Howard are very good buddies, dating back to their AAU days in Atlanta. So aside from going to a possible title contender, the Rockets are Smith’s personal choice because of Dwight. Secondly, the Rockets have always had an eye on Josh Smith ever since he took the free agency market in 2013. Didn’t the Rockets try to work out a sign and trade deal with the Hawks before Smith signed with the Pistons?
So from the personal point of view, this looks like a marriage made in heaven: Smith reunites with good Buddy Dwight in a team that has always coveted him. But Good stories are not enough in the NBA, the Rockets need to back it up with victories.
Houston’s Game Plan
According to Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Rockets have already devised a plan for Smith. It includes giving him an immediate starting spot and meaningful minutes with the Rockets, even if it has the potential to sacrifice the good chemistry they already have right now. According to sources, the Rockets plan to make Smith to go back to his strengths of shot-blocking, rebounding and attacking the basket on offense.
Offensively, that is where the challenge begins for the Rockets because Smith has almost become a totally different offensive player right now. In the past two seasons, Smith has posted career highs in three point attempts. The problem is, he shot those threes at a poor .281 during that period. Last season, Smith also had career highs in average field goal distance (12.5 ft) and percentage of shots taken from 3PT area (.215). The result? He had a career low .419 FG%. If Kevin McHale tames his quick trigger and Smith realizes he doesn’t need to score much with Harden, Ariza and Howard on the same side, the Rockets may be looking at a lift-off.
Winning With Defense
The other side of basketball turns this acquisition from being challenging to complementing. The Rockets have achieved their 20-7 record by owning the 2nd best defense( 97.5 ) in the NBA. The Rockets are 10th in the NBA in rebounds, 3rd in steals and 10th in blocked shots. Smith does have a lot in common with these stats.
Even when he is struggling offensively this season (.391 FG%), Smith has averaged 1.7 blocks per game which is more than Marc Gasol (1.6 BPG) and Larry Sanders ( 1.4 BPG) who are their team’s defensive anchors. In fact, his 4.2% Block percentage is 16th best in the entire NBA National Basketball Association. To add to that, Smith averages 1.3 steals per game. Of the 45 players who average at least one shot block per game, only 11 average at least 1 steal per game. Smith is third on that list, behind Anthony Davis and Nerlens Noel. Also, the Rockets’ defense propels their fastbreak game, which is the 4th most productive in the league (15.9 PPG). Smith not only adds more steals but he is a good finisher on the fastbreak.
Good Without J Smoove
The Rockets are off to a fast start without Josh Smith. They have been playing pretty good basketball without him so far. Howard, Patrick Beverly and Terrence Jones have missed significant minutes due to various injuries but the Rockets have still been winning. That alone shows you how good these Rockets have been this season. But being good may not be enough, especially in the Western Conference where four teams have at least a .700 record and three more having at least .600. To win the West, a team has to have all the possible advantages it can get.
The Mavs have added Rajon Rondo last week. The Rockets got Corey Brewer from the Wolves and now Josh Smith from the waivers. There are no guarantees that Josh Smith will turn the Rockets into immediate title contenders but that is the best case scenario. Considering the he will be worth the bi-annual exception of $2.1M, Josh Smith is a low-cost risk. It’s always better to keep these bargains to yourself rather than let your opponents get them instead. Smith is an unlikely find for any team in the month December. He is Santa’s Christmas day present for the Rockets and he may be a keeper.