Jon Cooper - The Inside Scoop

The Inside Scoop
Josh Smith has looked inside himself and the lane to find new ways to help the Hawks win.
By Jon Cooper

"One more time! One more time!" came the sound eminating from the shower. The slight echo added richness to the near-perfect rendition of Joe Jackson's 1978 hit.

But it wasn't Jackson on the radio. It was Josh Smith.

Who knew the power forward better known for his post-dunk howl or soft-spoken interview manner could sing?

Actually, just about everybody in the Hawks locker room. It's something he does well.

As the Hawks approach the quarter pole of the 2009-10 season Smith, is taking the same approach on the floor. He's doing what everyone on the team knows he does well and giving up what he's not as good at — specifically taking three-point shots.

What convinced him to give up the long ball?

"Jamal coming," said Smith, with a laugh. "He's a better shooter from the perimeter and just the decision I made to be a better low-post player."

Its a decision that shows how far J-Smoove, a career .269 shooter from behind the arc in his first five seasons, has come in his growth as an NBA player.

"We're a lot better when we have him around the basket, dunking, and rebounding or shooting the mid-range jumper and I think he pretty much knows that now," said Joe Johnson. "He's staying away from shooting those threes. He's kicking out a lot more to me. We've just been playing good basketball. I give him a lot of credit for that."

"He's attacking the bucket and nobody can block his shot because he's so athletic and he can jump so high, he's so strong," added Zaza Pachulia. "You have to use your weapons, your abilities. That's what he's doing and we're feeding from it."

Smith has benefitted from trading the three for the two, as he's averaging 15.6 points per game, exactly what he averaged last year and only a little more than a point off his career-best total (17.2), while his field goal percentage is at .540, 17th in the league and a career-best by a large margin (his season-best is .492, set last year, when he took the fewest three-point shots of his career.).

"We don't need, necessarily all four guys stretching out and shooting more threes. We're much more effective when we're in the paint and working together," said Horford of his new neighbor in the paint. "We're going more to him, Coach [Woodson] feels more confident throwing him the ball inside and he's just making plays. He's really getting out there and getting all the hustle plays made."

Like the game-winning, follow-up slam with .7 seconds left to beat Houston Nov. 20.

That's typical of what Smith can do hanging around the basket and has resulted in something atypical for the Hawks — not just controlling the paint, but dominating it. Heading into Thursday night's Thanksgiving tilt against Orlando, the Hawks were leading the NBA in points in the paint, averaging 51.4 per game.

They've been as dominant defensively. The lane looks and sounds more like a volleyball match, with Smith leading the NBA with 37 blocks (his 2.64 blocks per game are second in the League) while Horford is averaging 1.79 swats per game (11th). Atlanta is second overall, knocking away 6.71 shots per game.

"That's where the game is won," said Head Coach Mike Woodson. "From an offensive standpoint it's won there, from a defensive standpoint eliminating points in the paint. We're trying to do both. In doing that we've been able to win some games."

"I think he's focused across the board, period," he continued. "The way he's managing the game and the things he's doing when he's out on the floor has been tremendous for us. We're going to need him to continue that way."

If Mike Bibby’s ankle injury forces him to miss time, the Hawks certainly will look to Smith to increase his production.

That production can come in ways they some teammates may not have known existed before, when Smith was standing at the three-point line. For example, he leads the team in steals with 1.6 spg and is second to Joe Johnson in assists per game at 4.3.

"I didn't know how well he could pass," said Crawford. "He sees the floor really well and I think that's one of his best attributes."

But Crawford admits that the most fun he has with Smith is using Smith's best attribute, his ability to soar through the air and to finish.

"I love throwing the ally-oop to him or getting it to him so he can hammer a dunk home."

But truth be told, Smith hasn’t sworn off the three forever.

"Maybe later on in my career, when I've worked on it enough I'll take them again," he said with a smile. "But right now, I'm good."

Jon Cooper is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.