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Much was expected of UCLA’s mammoth center, yet so far, Joshua Smith has failed to deliver in almost every conceivable way.
His once vaunted hands can no longer handle the simplest of entry passes. His impression of offense is to set up on one block and never move with the ball. His idea of defense is to either watch a speedy guard run right past him on the high post or pressure the ball so hard he earns a cheap foul.
Smith’s play has been poor, and most of that is a function of his poor conditioning. While he was able to get below 300 pounds last year, Smith has seemingly regressed in training, checking in at well over 300 pounds before the LMU game.
He cannot run the floor to get back on defense, he cannot stay with smaller players, and he cannot position himself well on the defensive boards. While in Maui, Howland had to call numerous timeouts just to get Smith a blow.
So far, he has yet to statistically impress. Smith is averaging 8.2 points and 5.5 rebounds per game, but can only stay on the floor for about 17 minutes of those games. Before the Pepperdine game, Howland even refused to start him in an effort to keep him from fouling, and still he usually picks up two in the first half.
His free throw shooting has also taken a turn for the worst. Smith is 47 percent from the line on 9-of-19 shooting, compared to 61 percent from the stripe a year ago.
Smith’s issues go beyond physical at this point. His lack of commitment to get in shape speaks to a larger problem of negative mentality. After picking up fouls or missing close put-backs, Smith gets easily discouraged and visible shows it with a hanging head or childish pout. He has yet to show any inclination that he wants to improve his offensive game or play defense.
Howland knows this, and started him against Pepperdine to see if he could play long minutes without getting fatigued or into foul trouble. We’ve yet to see an answer to the first part, as Smith picked up two silly fouls and sat for most of the first half.
Overall, UCLA looked at its most sluggish defensively when he was in the game. In the end, he only recorded 12 minutes during the Bruins’ 62-39 rout of the Waves.
We’ve seen better from Smith, but this year the discipline and passion isn’t there. If he can get his act together, he can be one of the best big men in the country. Otherwise, Smith better make himself comfortable on the bench.