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Pivot Points: Josh Smith's Evolution

Hadarii JonesSenior Writer IDecember 1, 2009

ATLANTA - NOVEMBER 26:  Josh Smith #5 of the Atlanta Hawks against the Orlando Magic at Philips Arena on November 26, 2009 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Atlanta Hawks forward, Josh Smith has always been good for a Sportscenter highlight or two, an impossible block, an athletic steal, or on one memorable occasion, a missed dunk.

This year though, Smith is entering new territory in his sixth year in the NBA, because for the first time Smith is actually learning the true concept of fundamental basketball.

Smith has gotten by so far in his career based on the fact that he is one of the only players that you could compare to LeBron James in terms of pure athleticism, but he was devoid of any of James' skill or instinct.

This year has seen a concerted effort from Smith to improve his game, and the results of his work are strewn all across the stat sheet.

His scoring average has remained about the same but he has raised his numbers in every other category including rebounds, steals, assists, and field goal percentage, on his way to becoming a complete player.

I have always been critical of Smith because of his unnatural athleticism, and his unwillingness to take advantage of his god-given gifts. I envisioned him as a decent player, content to be never more than an average talent.

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He seemed to be much more interested in the nightlife of his native Atlanta, rather than taking the time to hone his skills for the good of the team that had invested so much in him.

Silly me, Smith just needed some time to mature and become comfortable in his role on the young Hawks' team, and his club has prospered as he has blossomed.

The Hawks were always seen as a talented bunch, but this year they have served notice that they are a team to be reckoned with in the Eastern Conference hierarchy, and just maybe the most athletic team in the league.

Much of that credit is due to Smith, and besides the numbers, you can see the growth in his game and how it has affected his team.

He was always a decent defensive player, but he was more opportunistic than anything else, but this year you can see him moving his feet to stay with his man, and his defensive posture has improved also.

The same can be said for his rebounding, which was certainly due to his jumping ability, more so than technique, but now Smith realizes the value of blocking out, and his increased rebounding numbers are a direct correlation of that effort.

The most important difference though is his ability to settle down and control himself, and let the game come to him instead of trying to force the issue.

Smith's unpredictability has always been a hindrance to the Hawks and at times left them in desperate situations, as he was capable of making a game-changing play, or a game-breaking play, often in the space of moments.

His wide range of talents made him the logical choice as the glue guy of the team, but he could never be trusted in critical situations, due to his tendency to make bad decisions.

This season has seen a turn around in Smith's decision-making ability and the trust bestowed upon him by teammates, who have found a new faith in his ability to make the right decisions at crucial times.

To be honest, his evolution is by no means complete and there are several areas of his game that could still see improvement.

For one, his ball-handling could improve, because although it is adequate, he can still be a liability when opposing teams apply pressure in an effort to create turnovers.

His shot-selection could also be better, because he does have a tendency to let loose with ill-timed shots at inopportune moments to the detriment of his team.

The encouraging thing is that Smith has displayed a willingness and desire to continue progress in his game and due to his uncanny athleticism there is no discernible ceiling blocking his path.

Smith is an example of the strides that a player can make when he concentrates his focus onto becoming a better player, and it doesn't hurt to be blessed with the natural gifts that he possesses either.

It's refreshing to discuss a player that could have fallen by the wayside, but instead chose to explore the true measures of his potential. It's even more refreshing to see a player begin his evolution from a decent player to a potentially great one.

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