What Should the Atlanta Hawks Do with Josh Smith?

Ethan Sherwood StraussNBA Lead WriterSeptember 7, 2012

BOSTON, MA - MAY 10:  Josh Smith #5 of the Atlanta Hawks reacts to a call in the second half against the Boston Celtics in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs on May 10, 2012 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. The Boston Celtics defeated the Atlanta Hawks 83-80. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Full disclosure: I love Josh Smith. This will be an exercise in attempted objectivity. I know full well that he takes too many horrid jump shots, that he's prone to the worst play at the worst possible time and that he's likely using around 60 percent of his potential. I can't resist celebrating a shot-blocking, space-eating power forward—there are only so many such players in the league. Also, his dunks are the best this side of Blake Griffin. Cue Serge Ibaka crumbling:

The sad truth, though, is that athleticism is an ephemeral quality. Josh Smith won't have these hops for long. He's 26 years old—still in his prime but also soon out of it. Smith is also 6'7" without shoes (per Draft Express) and only has a seven-foot wingspan. When his bounce leaves, he may find it difficult to be valuable on defense. 

The offense is a concern but almost shouldn't be. When Josh puts it on the floor and drives to the bucket, there are few better. When he operates in the post, his quick moves usually overcome large, plodding defenders. 

If this were the main Josh Smith approach, I would caution the Hawks against ever trading him. Sadly, he continues to hoist that errant jump shot, despite years of criticism. 

Last season, he boosted his attempts from 16 to 23 feet up from 4.3 per game to 6.3 per game. On such attempts, he converted 37 percent of field goals. 

Obviously, a power forward needs to shoot this shot, just to keep a defense honest. But there is little justification for hoisting shots that often when Smith has such better options available. Considering all the seasons he's had in this league, the continued chucking is a bit alarming.

I would contrast his game to Al Horford's, seeing as both essentially play the same position. The Hawks are in a tricky situation where they must play both power forwards at once. Horford lacks Smith's hops, but his long range shot is on target. This makes for his offense, and offense associated with his play, to be more predictably efficient. With a career .553 field goal percentage, I would give Horford's ground-bound game the edge. 

While I can't advocate for what Atlanta should do precisely, I do believe that they must choose between Smith and Horford. Big Al is on the books till 2016 at $12 million per season. Smith will likely command a price somewhere in that range. In a vacuum, I side with Horford, but there are other considerations.

Can the Hawks find a sweet-shooting center? If so, it might be wise to keep Smith. Such kinds of players are rare, but for the sake of hypothetical argument, I'm putting that out there. If Horford could be traded for a certain kind of center, Smith makes sense at the 4-spot.

If Horford could be traded for, say, an unhappy Dwight Howard, the all-time defensive combo of Dwight-Smith bears some consideration. Also notable: Smith and Howard are familiar from their days growing up in the Atlanta youth basketball scene. 

In the meantime, the Hawks should stand back and see what they can get for Horford. If they can't find a nice player to complement Smith, then the move should be to either trade JSmoove or let him walk. Both Smith and Horford are good players, but a choice must be made between the two of them.