Finally, it appears as though Josh Smith has found "it."
What is "it," exactly?
Quite simply, Smith has looked like the player the Hawks thought they'd be getting when they signed the former high school-draftee to a $58 million contract two summers ago.
The 23-year-old high-flying forward is averaging 16 points, seven rebounds, and 2.6 blocks per game through Atlanta's first eight games.
Smith, a career 46 percent shooter, is shooting a phenomenal 58 percent from the floor so far as well.
They key for Smith on offense has clearly been the fact that he has not taken a single three-pointer so far.
Smith is just a 27 percent three-point shooter for his career, yet still fired up 87 last season, connecting on just 26.
Smith, with the help of players like Al Horford, Joe Johnson, and sixth-man extraordinaire Jamal Crawford, has Atlanta flying high, with a 6-2 record.
Tonight, they'll face their toughest test of the season to date when they stroll into Boston to face the rejuvenated Celtics.
The Celtics (8-1) lead the league in defense, allowing a league-best 84.6 points per game.
The Hawks, on the other hand, are fourth in the league in scoring, averaging about 108 points per game.
As they say, something's gotta give.
Boston has a balanced offensive attack, as Paul Pierce, their leading scorer, is scoring just 18 points a night.
The Hawks have lost their past nine games in Boston, and they'll surely be in for a fight tonight if they want to keep that figure from reaching double digits.
Here's how the teams stack up head-to-head.
Mike Bibby (ATL) vs. Rajon Rondo (BOS)
Mike Bibby's scoring numbers are down, but that hasn't hurt the Hawks.
A career 16 points per game scorer, Bibby is going for just 10 per game so far in '09.
With his brand new contract, Rajon Rondo has shown no signs of slowing down thus far, averaging 11 points, nine assists, and three steals per game for the Celtics, all while shooting a stellar 60 percent from the field.
All things considered, it'll be interesting to see how Bibby is able to handle the quicker Rondo on the defensive end of the floor.
Joe Johnson (ATL) vs. Ray Allen (BOS)
Upcoming free agent Joe Johnson has gotten off to a solid start, going for 21 points and six rebounds per game.
He's shooting 45 percent from the floor, but has been surprisingly bad from beyond the arc, going just 9-34 this season so far (26 percent).
Allen is still the Celtics' second-leading scorer (14.8 ppg), but his numbers are down from where they were last year (18 ppg).
If Johnson and Allen are matched up, it'll be very tough for the smaller Allen to be able to handle Johnson.
Marvin Williams (ATL) vs. Paul Pierce (BOS)
Williams is just 23 years old, but is already entering his fifth NBA season.
After giving him a brand new five year, $37 million contract over the summer, Atlanta has to be a little disappointed with the way he's started this season, averaging just over nine points and about five rebounds per game.
The aforementioned Pierce is still the focal point of the Celtics' offense, and, because of the talent around him, hasn't had to over-exert himself in order for the team to win.
Josh Smith (ATL) vs. Kevin Garnett (BOS)
Smith has been phenomenal for Atlanta thus far, energizing the Hawks with his play on both sides of the floor.
Like Allen and Pierce, Kevin Garnett doesn't have to put up the scoring numbers that he used to in order for his team to win.
KG is averaging about 13 points per, to go along with eight rebounds and a block.
Quite honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if these two put up similar numbers tonight.
Al Horford (ATL) vs. Kendrick Perkins (BOS)
Horford has upped his game in a big way so far, going for about 14 points, 11 rebounds, and over two blocks per game.
Kendrick Perkins' value doesn't necessarily show up in a box score.
The big-bodied Perkins is getting over two blocks per game, and has become one of the league's premiere (and more underrated) defenders on the low block.
This will be a very, very intriguing matchup when Atlanta has the ball.
Led by newcomer Jamal Crawford, the Hawks actually boast one of the deeper benches in the league.
Crawford has given the Hawks the scoring jolt off the bench they've so sorely needed in recent years.
They have one of the more serviceable backup centers in the league in Zaza Pachulia, flanked by veterans Joe Smith and Maurice Evans in the frontcourt.
The Celtics' bench is no secret.
Rasheed Wallace has fit in nicely, going for about 11 points in just over 20 minutes per game so far.
Marquis Daniels, another new addition, has been pretty much what Boston had expected.
He's a perfect role-playing swingman that plays solid defense and can score when called upon to do so.
Backup center Shelden Williams has been a nice surprise, and appears to have finally found his NBA home.
While the Celtics are tough to dethrone at home, the Hawks have shown that they won't back down from anybody, as evidenced by their tough victory on the road in Portland earlier this year.
Expect a hard-fought game that could go down to the wire.
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