It's All In The Game: Josh Smith On The Rise

I remember watching the 2004 NBA Draft when the Atlanta Hawks made Josh Smith their first round pick. One of the announcers (I think it was Jay Billis) said that out of all the high school players in the draft, he was the most likely to be a bust.

Despite being an incredible athlete who could dunk like a young Dominique Wilkins, they said he had a “questionable” attitude and that he was lazy.

And I agreed.

I covered the 2005 Rocky Mountain Revue for and wrote at the time:

“Josh Smith wowed the crowd with blocks and several monster dunks. He also had the crowd laughing a bit with his casual demeanor on the court. There were many times when Smith would just lightly jog during games, displaying a very questionable attitude.”

It seemed like Josh was destined to join the list of high school busts like Leon Smith, Korleone Young, James Lang and Ndudi Ebi. But here we are in 2008, and Smith is not only still in the league, but is quickly developing into one a special player. This season, Smith is throwing up monster numbers, averaging 17.9 points, 8 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.9 steals [11th in the league] and 3.2 blocks per game which is second best in the NBA. Last November, Smith torched Milwaukee for 38 and put up 34 on the Nets last Saturday night. He has blocked five or more shots in a game, nine times.

Smith’s talent has never been questioned. By the time he left high school powerhouse Oak Hill Academy, he had an NBA-ready body. On offense he could slash to the basket with ease and could finish a fast break with an assortment of dunks. He also used his quickness on the defensive end. Josh could play passing lanes and had a knack for blocking the ball. But it was his attitude, maturity and work ethic that was put on trial.

From what I have seen this year, Josh has been playing hard every possession – something you wouldn’t have seen two years ago. It’s apparent that he is serious about winning now and is proving he is more than a slam dunk champion. If he works on his shooting [particularly from the three-point line] and cuts down his turnovers, he will be a top forward.

The Hawks are hovering around .500 ball – which is actually an accomplishment for them. While the team centers around Joe Johnson’s scoring, Smith may be the team’s most valuable player. Extremely versatile and athletic, the 6-9 swingman has a chance to develop into a Shawn Marion-esque player. No disrespect to Speedy Claxton or Tyronn Lue, but if Smith gets a chance to play with an elite point guard some day, you will see him take his game up another notch considering the way he runs the floor.

It won’t be long until Josh Smith gets his shine and will be recognized as a top-level talent. Unlike the last time I made a prediction on him, I think I’ll be right this time around.