Smith's Breakout Night a Product of Time, Patience and Trust in Process

The Rockets' 21-year-old big man came into the NBA D-League quietly. On Wednesday, after out-dueling Dwight Howard a night prior, he's the talk of the NBA.

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Twenty-four days shy of a full year ago -- 342 days before he outplayed Dwight Howard, drove the Houston Rockets to a win over the Los Angeles Lakers and gave the basketball-loving world a glimpse into a future the Rockets' brass had long foreseen -- Greg Smith burst into the NBA D-League.

From the beginning, he looked like he didn't belong. At 6-foot-10, 250 pounds, in a league with a scarcity of NBA-ready big men at that point, the new Rio Grande Valley Viper did whatever he wanted in the lane.

The only problem was his routine involved tripping over himself and fouling people.

A lot.

So the story of how Smith went from a player with footwork probably best described as freshman-at-a-homecoming-dance to a potential breakout NBA big man is one of patience. And time. And an NBA Development League system that's getting better and better at finding, unearthing and polishing gems.

Because as Smith bruised and lumped his way around the NBA D-League, the Rockets were watching.

"We brought him to training camp [in 2011] and thought he had the tools but wasn't there yet," said Rockets VP of player personnel and RGV Vipers GM Gersson Rosas in November. "We were able to invest in him, and he did a lot of work. We ended up calling him up and signing him to a multi-year deal.

"Its an organizational success," Rosas continued. "And it happens from top-to-bottom, from the scouts who identified him at the Draft to the coaches who developed him at RGV to the coaches who developed him here over the last year to make him a contributor."

His first two games with Rio Grande Valley announced his arrival. He averaged 15.5 points, 10.5 rebounds and 3.5 blocks in two RGV wins. Then the fouls started. Over the next six games, Smith picked up four fouls in each one of them, as he struggled to stay in front of his man and relied on his height and strength while flailing his arms around on defense. During that stretch, after opening up with seven swats in two games, he blocked just four shots total and averaged 8.6 rebounds.

But he worked. And worked. And over the rest of January, starting with a 28-point, 13-board explosion against Sioux Falls on Jan. 17, the fouls went down, the pace picked up and the minutes reflected both. And with Smith playing 30 minutes or more a night, the Vipers rolled out seven wins in eight games.

By early February, he'd turned himself into a model of efficiency. In a 10-game stretch starting with that Sioux Falls game, he scored 18.8 points a night by shooting better than 65 percent from the floor. On Feb. 8, he was named an NBA D-League All-Star.

And a few hours later, he was called-up to the Houston Rockets.

The Rockets assigned him immediately: Smith played in RGV two nights later. But the message was clear: even if Smith wasn't ready to help the Rockets right away, he was someone worth developing.

"For us, selfishly, we look at these young players and know how we want to play in Houston, and we try to develop them as much as we can where they can fill our needs, if we think they're NBA players," Rosas said.

Smith played eight games in the NBA D-League after joining the Rockets' organization. He hasn't been back since.

"Were young and up and coming, so were gonna focus more on guys who haven't done it [before in the NBA] or who have the upside," Rosas said. "There's a lot of risk for failure there, but we err on the side of a younger player who's got a little more things unknown about them than the eight- or nine-year veterans where you know what you're getting.

"We're all upside right now."