Josh Smith Not Fazed By His Critics

Atlanta Hawks fans would probably be more at ease watching Jeff Teague jump off a 20-foot ladder into a shallow pool of water than watching Josh Smith catch a pass anywhere outside of 12 feet from the rim. Considering Smith only knocked down 28-of-109 3-point attempts (25.7 percent) last season, there is a reason to be concerned.

Frequenters of Philips Arena have not forgot either. In the Hawks home opener—a 109-102 loss to the Houston Rockets—Smith was met with a chorus of gasps when he got the ball on the 3-point line with literally no one near him.

Boos followed, as Smith was unable to knock down the wide-open shot.

Still, Smith seems unfazed by the naysayers and focused on making his jump shot better. This year, he will benefit from having a new set of accomplished shooting coaches — his teammates.

Smith has already spent time working with Kyle Korver, the man who holds the record for highest single season 3-point percentage in NBA history. Korver said he thinks, with a little direction and practice, Smith might be able to silence some of his critics.

“I think Josh has the ability to be a great shooter,” Korver said. “I’m just working with him on some small things.”

Korver said he is impressed by how fast Smith is picking his tips up.

“He is a quick learner,” he said. “You don’t ever want to do a total overhaul of a guy’s shot right before the season starts, but I think there are some things that he can focus on that will help out quite a bit.”

Continuing to launch up shots, is definitely not what most would recommend for Smith given his explosiveness and ability to score around the rim, but Korver said staying the course is just one of the ingredients to being a good shooter.

“He has the mentality of ‘I don’t care if I missed the last ten, I’m going to throw up the next one,’” said Korver. “That’s what good shooters have. You can knock that, or you can praise that. The bottom line is, he has the ability to be a very good shooter.”

Although Hawks head coach Larry Drew has criticized Smith’s shot selection in the past, he seems very confident in the abilities of the versatile big man.

“The beauty about Josh is Josh knows every position on the floor,” Drew said in an interview before the season. “I can play him at three and also at times I can move him to some two. We can use him in different ways in what we do.”

It may take a while for Smith to gain the trust of the Atlanta Hawks fans, but with a visibly improved shot stroke and the right mentality, he might be on his way.

A Big Summer For Colangelo

I’m not one for hyperbole, but this is probably Bryan Colangelo’s biggest summer of his tenure so far in Toronto.

In the past, Colangelo has made headlines for signing Hedo Turkoglu, losing Chris Bosh via free agency or trading for Jermaine O’Neal. This summer Colangelo has oodles of cap space, a top ten draft pick to dangle in front of other teams and a need to make a move of substance if he wants ownership to keep him around past this season.

Colangelo is known for being quick to pull the trigger on moves, and with cap space and a need to impress ownership, look for him to make some bold moves this summer.

Starting on draft night, look for Colangelo to deal Toronto’s first round draft pick. Yes, the eighth overall pick could net Toronto a nice young player, but the reality is the Raptors won’t be starting two rookies next season. Jonas Valanciunas will be given the starting position at the five as long as he comes into training camp hungry so Dwane Casey can’t afford to give another raw rookie extended minutes next season.

Throw in the fact Toronto needs a veteran wing who can score and defend and the idea of a trade makes a lot of sense. Plus, Toronto has a bunch of cap space on draft night due to a trade deadline deal that saw Leandro Barbosa head to Indiana for a shipment of Gatorade. Just kidding, sort of.

Names like Rudy Gay, Andre Iguodala and Kyle Lowry have been thrown around in recent weeks. While all of those players would provided an instant bump in Toronto’s starting five, the player who I would target is Josh Smith.

Yes, I realize Toronto wants to play Andrea Bargnani at the four and Valanciunas at the five, and Smith is a four, but why not insert Smith as a starting small forward? He has the athleticism to guard small forwards but his shot blocking and rebounding would make up for Bargnani not being a great rebounder.

Can you imagine the damage that trio would cause? It would make Casey salivate heading into training camp at what he could achieve on the defensive end with Smith and Valanciunas anchoring his defense.

Heck, it could even make some of Bargnani’s defensive woes look somewhat invisible.

Now, why would Atlanta deal a player who should have made the All-Star team last season? The salary cap next season is going to be close to $72 million and with only six players under contract they have already committed over $60 million in salary. Ouch. That’s not looking good for a franchise that is near the bottom of the NBA in attendance and has said they won’t pay the luxury tax.

Again, Iguodala, Gay or Lowry would look great in Toronto, but if Colangelo really wants to swing for the fences, the ideal target should be Josh Smith.

Pierce, Celtics Steal One In Atlanta

After jumping out to a sizable lead early and weathering the storm late to beat the Boston Celtics in game one of their Eastern Conference matchup, the Atlanta Hawks found themselves in trap game heading into the second game of the series Tuesday night.

The Hawks had a lot of things in their favor. Ray Allen has yet to return to action for the Celtics, as he has been plagued with an ailing ankle. Rajon Rondo was forced to sit Tuesday’s contest out because of the infamous bump heard ‘round the world. To top things off, the Hawks again had home court advantage.

Perhaps the most interesting thing of it all is that the Hawks knew exactly what they were getting into.

“We can’t come out thinking that [with] no Rondo that it’s going to be an easy game,” Larry Drew said before the game. “We have to bring our A-game, because our B-game isn’t going to get it done. “

But pre-game coach preachiness was not enough to prevent Atlanta from suffering one of the most embarrassing collapses they have had all season to the tune of an 87-80 loss.

One would think the team missing their starting point guard would be the one to struggle offensively, but with the game on the line, a stellar performance from Paul Pierce and tough Celtics defense left the Hawks looking dazed and confused.

After struggling the entirety of Game 1, Pierce looked like a man on a mission. The 2008 Finals MVP scorched the Hawks for game-highs 36 points and 14 rebounds. In the fourth quarter Pierce knocked down 5-of-7 from the field for 13 points. Atlanta struggled connecting on just 4-of-19 attempts from the field and only managed to outscore Pierce by one.

“The only way we were going to win the game is if Paul played like that,” Doc Rivers said during the postgame press conference. “He knew that. So did [the Hawks], yet he still did it. It just tells you how special he is.”

Avery Bradley, who told HOOPSADDICT.com before the game that he had knocked of his playoff jitters in game one, did a solid job filling for Rondo. The second-year guard scored 14 points while shooting 50 percent from the field. He also contributed on defense with three blocks and three steals.

On Friday, the series shifts to Boston with a completely different tone. The Celtics now have home court advantage, Rondo is set to return from his suspension, and the Hawks may have to go without Josh Smith who left Tuesday night’s game early with a sprained knee. In order for the Hawks to get back in this series Atlanta will have to take a page out of the Celtics book and overcome some major adversity.

“I told our players, ‘this is what playoff basketball is all about,’” Drew said. “It will be a chess match. It’s about adjustments. It’s about when you are on the other end of the stick—really seeing what you are made of.”