Most Hornets fans probably scratched their heads and let out a “duh, who is dat” when the Hornets announced that they had acquired Jason Smith in a four player deal. Smith was acquired from Philadelphia in September, along with backup point guard Willie Green in exchange for Darius Songaila and Craig Brackins.
For coaches and fans alike, Green was the known commodity. No one locally, including this writer, knew much about big man Jason Victor Smith. He was pretty much considered as a throw-in player used to equalize bodies on the trade.
Green is not doing badly at all. He is coming off the bench and keeping the Hornets in the game while Chris Paul gets needed rest. However, after eight games, Smith is looking like a steal in the acquisition. He is averaging over 20 minutes, eight points, and 4.5 boards per game on 48.1% from the field and a sizzling 92.3% from the charity stripe.
On the streets I hear people asking questions such as “Where did this guy come from?” “How good can he get?” Is Jason Smith the next Dirk Nowitzki?”
While it is a bit soon to crown Smith the next Dirk, it is a question that I anticipate being asked more and more as the season progresses, considering their almost identical builds and similar styles of play. Smith’s own teammates and coaches are stunned at his level of play and intensity and believe that Jason has tremendous upside potential.
Dirk and Smith are both seven feet even and weigh in at 240ish pounds. They both run the court well and shoot the outside jumper comfortably. Both are excellent free-throw shooters. Smith seems more willing than Nowitzki to play on the inside and scrap it out with the big boys. Dirk, on the other hand, likes to hang around on the outside, drive to the basket, and dare I write, get a whistle on the famous “Dirk flop.”
What do Smith’s team mates think of him? Well, in a recent interview with New Orleans Times-Picayune sports writer John DeShazier, all-star Chris Paul had this to say about the tough seven-footer. “Not only is Jason a great guy, but the way he plays the game —he plays with a lot of heart, a lot of passion. I told D-West, this is one of the first times since we’ve been in the league that D-West has had a true backup. When D-West goes out of the game, there’s no huge drop-off.”
No drop-off from two-time all-star David West? That is high praise indeed, especially coming from none other than CP3. So what is the background of the Hornets' new prized backup and how did they come about obtaining him as almost an afterthought?
Coming out of Colorado State as a junior, the draft pundits described Smith as "the type of player that comes into a workout and makes scouts salivate at his potential.” He was also evaluated as quick, extremely agile, and explosive getting off his feet. In short, Smith’s physical characteristics are never going to be an issue for him.
Draftexpress.com wrote that “It’s in this part of his game—doing guard-esqe things like utilizing jab-steps from the triple threat position and getting his man in the air intelligently with a shot-fake and then jumping into him for the foul ala Kobe or D-Wade—that the comparisons to Dirk Nowitzki come from.”
So how did this potential pearl fall into the Hornet’s lap? Smith was originally selected by Miami with the 20th overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft. He was immediately acquired the 76ers in a draft night trade in exchange for the rights to Daequan Cook, the Sixers second round pick in 2009 and cash considerations.
Smith was a developing prospect with Philadelphia until he missed the entire 2008 season after tearing the ACL in his left knee during a workout session. It was all downhill after that. Last season, Smith was playing himself back into shape. During the summer league this past year, Smith performed well but the 76ers decided that he was expendable. Apparently, this was just not the right venue for him.
Now, with the change of scenery, Jason Smith is blossoming. Is he reaching the potential that scouts saw in him coming out of Colorado State? Maybe. Is he the next Dirk? Over the next week, the Hornets play the Mavericks twice. I am sure that there will be some head to head opportunities for Smith and Nowitzki. Let’s see how the young man does and let his play speak for itself.