With the 2013 period of NBA free agency officially upon us, few players have proven to be as polarizing as combo forward Josh Smith. From his elite physical gifts and dynamic versatility to his lackluster efficiency, Smith has done everything he can to bring us to our highest highs and lowest lows.
If he hopes to salvage his reputation and truly compete for a title, however, his best option is to sign with the Houston Rockets.
According to Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports, signing Smith is the Rockets' second option if they're unable to acquire Dwight Howard. While that may seem less than ideal, an evaluation of the NBA landscape leaves us believing that it's the best-case scenario for Smith.
It just so happens that the two sides have already met, according to Jeff Goodman of ESPN.
All that's left is the painstaking factor of patience.
Even in this less than desirable predicament, no team can provide Smith with as strong of an opportunity to maximize his abilities as Houston. From its style of play to the talent currently in place, it truly is a dream fit in Houston.
It all starts with Houston's value of versatility at the 4.
How It Works: Offense
The Houston Rockets finished the 2012-13 NBA regular season ranked second in scoring offense at 106.0 points per game. They led the league in possessions per game, thus displaying their up-tempo style of play.
Something that Josh Smith could join in a seamless manner.
Smith stands at 6'9" and 225 pounds, thriving both at small and power forward. He's a menace in transition, throwing down memorable dunks in virtually every game he's ever played at the NBA level.
So how proficient a finisher is Smith? According to Synergy Sports, Smith converted at a clip of 69.2 percent on 159 attempts in transition during the 2012-13 season.
Where better for J-Smoove to resume that open-court production than Houston?
In terms of placating Smith, the Rockets have valued floor-spacing power forwards in the past with players such as Marcus Morris and Patrick Patterson. While Smith is more efficient when he plays within the perimeter, he can shoot the basketball.
That makes Smith the ideal screen man for James Harden and Jeremy Lin at the top of the key—something Omer Asik was unable to be in 2012-13.
How It Works: Defense
As dominant as the Houston Rockets were on offense, they were equally as putrid on the defensive end of the floor. They were 28th in scoring defense, 17th in opponent field-goal percentage and 22nd in opponent three-point field-goal percentage.
It all ties back to the absence of a rim protector.
Omer Asik is an elite rebounding presence, ranking third in the NBA at 11.7 per game. He's also an energy defender who lacks the proper footwork or timing to make a dominant impact when playing around the rim.
Smith is one of the most versatile defenders in the NBA.
According to Basketball-Reference.com, Smith was one of five players in the NBA to average at least 1.5 blocks and 1.0 steal per game. Joining him in that regard were Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol, Joakim Noah, Dwight Howard and Anthony Davis.
In terms of the numbers that matter most, Synergy Sports reports that Smith allowed 0.65 points per isolation set and 0.71 per post up. By comparison, LeBron James allowed 0.82 per isolation play and 0.56 per post up.
In other words, Smith is right in line with the most versatile defender of our time.
Smith's ability to defend both the perimeter and interior would make him the ultimate grab for Houston. While he may not be the league's most dominant defender in one specific area, Smith is one of the most dynamic.
That's exactly what Houston needs in an up-tempo offense that demands a defensive presence that can move all over the floor.
The Superstar Factor
During the 2012-13 NBA regular season, Smith was provided with his first opportunity to be "the man" with the Atlanta Hawks. Joe Johnson had been traded to the Atlanta Hawks, and Al Horford was preparing for his first full season since tearing his pectoral muscle in January 2012.
While his statistics were marvelous, one thing was evident—Smith needs a star to lead the offense and place him in positions to succeed.
Smith can take over a game as a scorer, exploding in transition, working out of the post and spacing the floor with his jump shot. With that being said, Smith falls in love with his jumper far too often.
With Jeremy Lin and James Harden both proficient in running the pick-and-roll, Houston would provide Smith with the taming factor he needs.
When Smith plays within the perimeter, he becomes one of the most dominant offensive forces in the NBA. Not only can he score, but he can also facilitate and set his teammates up for high-percentage shots.
When he attempts to space it out, however, Smith turns a weapon into a weakness.
With Harden running the show, Smith would be forced into the role of a player who finishes off of feeds. Not only would this create high-percentage looks for an extraordinary finisher, but it would also limit the wild shots and turnovers.
All in all, Harden's presence could push Smith to the place we all know he deserves to be—the All-Star Game.