However, the pairing—along with fellow “Headband Brother” Jason Terry—is turning the Rockets' bench into one of the best in the league.
For the first month of the season, the Rockets’ bench was awful. Through Dec. 18, they were last in bench scoring at 22.8 points per game. Then they acquired Brewer on Dec. 19 in a three-team trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Philadelphia 76ers.
Six days later, they signed Smith using the biannual exception. Smith had fallen out of favor with the Detroit Pistons because his shooting was horrendous. They felt it was worth paying him to not play. The Rockets were ready to capitalize on that.
After a couple of games as a starter, Houston moved the forward to the bench. While some were concerned about how he might take that, he told Michael Lee of the Washington Post he what he was willing to do:
Sacrifice for whatever it takes in order for us to get win. I haven’t really stopped smiling since the moment I had an opportunity to be right back in free agency and this is the team I feel most comfortable on. That we have a great group of guys in this locker room and I feel great about our opportunities looking forward.
And off the bench, he’s been a revelation with Brewer.
Since Smith started playing with the second unit, the Rockets’ bench is 10th in the league with 35.9 points per game. Most of the credit for that goes to Brewer and Smith.
The paring has developed a sensational chemistry together, and it’s apparent both in the stats and in the eye test. Brewer and Smith just works. Whether it comes to shutting down opponents with defensive brilliance or running the fast break, the Rockets are a better team with the duo on the court.
Here is what the Rockets do when Brewer and Smith are playing together compared to their overall numbers (hover over the bars in the chart for details):
The Rockets are better at shooting, three-point shooting, passing, rebounding, defending, stealing, blocking and running the fast break when their newly acquired duo is playing together. They get more points in the paint. Their net rating (point differential per 100 possessions) is plus-9.1. That’s 5.6 points higher than the Rockets' overall season average.
The numbers are in the chart. But this isn’t about numbers—it’s about fun.
In addition to the success the pairing shows, it is just plain enjoyable to watch. The Rockets average 17.9 fast-break points overall, but that number jumps to 20.7 with Brewer and Smith, and 10.2 come from the pair.
This is where the fun starts.
This play was about to be a disaster with Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving running in for what he thought would be an easy two, but that turned into a Brewer three quicker than Irving could say, “I got my shot blocked”:
Here, forward Kostas Papanikolaou blocks Glen “Big Baby” Davis as he’s going to the rim. Smith collects the rebound and takes the ball up the court, then hits Brewer with the gorgeous no-look pass:
Here, Brewer sets up Smith with the hockey assist:
This was either a brilliant pass or an incredibly fortuitous mistake:
Rockets guard James Harden is getting in on the action, too. This full-court outlet pass is a thing of beauty:
Here, Brewer gets a steal and then dishes to Harden:
And here Harden sets up Brewer:
The Smith-to-Brewer connection has become lethal. Brewer has hit 20 times off Smith's passes, with seven of those being three-pointers. His effective field-goal percentage on those attempts is 67.1 percent.
Harden is enjoying Smith's presence as well. He's 31-of-62 from deep when Smith feeds him. Perhaps the most amazing number of all: Smith passes have led to 83 of the 147 threes (56.4 percent of them) made by his teammates while he was on the court.
In a challenged offense, with Harden forced to do everything, Smith and Brewer have become a blessing.
They let him get a blow every now and then without the team collapsing. He can even have an occasional off game and the Rockets can still win. Consider the 26-point, 10-rebound line Brewer posted in beating the Toronto Raptors on Feb. 21.
The easy points that come from transition, cuts to the rim and the passes out of Smith drives may end up being the difference between a first-round exit and a deep run this postseason.
Until then, it's just a fun show to watch.
All stats are obtained from NBA.com/Stats.