By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
May 2, 2012
Hornets.com continues its look back at the 2011-12 season with player-by-player analysis of the team:
According to Hornets second-year coach Monty Williams, no New Orleans player did more this season to improve his standing around the league than Smith. The 7-foot big man wrapped up 2010-11 as a serviceable role player whose minutes fluctuated behind more accomplished power forwards David West and Carl Landry. But by the end of 2011-12, Smith was one of the Hornets best players, producing several big scoring and rebounding games during NOLAs 8-6 month of April.
Jasons been our most improved player from the beginning of the season, Williams praised. I dont know why he doesnt get any notoriety for most improved (player) in the league, because Jason has come a long way from last year. From the start of camp, he came in in shape. Most people wont admit it, but hes kicked some (opposing players) butts this year that didnt expect it. He had a solid year last year, but he certainly made a name for himself this year.
The Colorado State product achieved most-improved Hornet accolades despite missing 20 games and more than six weeks of action due to the concussion he sustained Feb. 4 in Detroit. Almost immediately after his return to the court on March 17, Smith began the best offensive stretch of his pro career, including seven consecutive double-digit scoring games. From a team standpoint, following Smiths mid-March return, the Hornets went 10-9 when he was in uniform.
When he was out for those 20 games, we missed his spirit and intensity, Williams said of a 6-14 stretch. He plays hard on every possession.
Smith put up career-best numbers in several statistical categories, but the most visible improvement came in his offensive versatility. The vast majority of his baskets in 2010-11 had resulted from standstill jumpers, but he displayed a much more aggressive and expansive approach in 2011-12.
Its really trying to mix in not just pick-and-pop, but also pick-and-roll to the basket, or being able to do a little shot fake and get to the basket or to the free-throw line, Smith explained of the expansion of his offense. If youre just a jump shooter, teams can just D up for that. If youre (only) a jump shooter, there is not much else you can do. Coach James Borrego has been working with me in practice the little practice time we have to really try and develop those skills.
The finest illustration of how far Smith progressed as a player this season took place on April 7 vs. Minnesota. It was not only Smiths best game this season, but the premier performance of his four-year NBA career. Starting at power forward, Smith made his first eight shots from the field, en route to a career-high 26-point game. He finished the 99-90 Hornets victory at 12-for-16, while also grabbing 10 rebounds.
Just two games later, Smith registered the second-best offensive game of his career, with 22 points in a victory over Sacramento. His play has been stellar, Williams credited. Offensively, hes been something other teams have to scout. The way hes shooting the ball, I love him. I love to see a guy who works and develops. Hes all about the right stuff.
Smith was an unrestricted free agent during the interminable 2011 offseason, but signed a three-year contract with New Orleans in December. After the player experienced what was easily the best year of his NBA tenure, Williams now looks forward to seeing Smiths continued improvement, partly due to his commendable work ethic.
He works on his game. I think thats what people forget about guys like Jason, Williams said. Ive seen guys with talent, but then they get their paycheck, and they stop working on their game. Jasons a guy who secured himself a three-year contract, and yet he continues to work like hes on a 10-day contract.
So you shouldnt be surprised when guys have nights like (the 26-point, 10-rebound April 7 showing vs. Minnesota).
During the 2010-11 season, Smith was often instructed to confine his offensive game to within what Williams called his box, including limiting his number of dribbles in the halfcourt offense, for example. Thats no longer as much the case, after Smith showed tremendous strides in being able to score more without committing turnovers.
Im trying to be more aggressive, Smith described. Its really about earning (Williams) respect. Thats the way it should be with any coach. You go out there and do one or two things well, and thats how you get the playing time. Over time, you develop your skills in practice to widen that box that he talks about. I think thats what Coach has allowed me to do. He knows how hard I work in practice, so I think it just allows that box to get bigger and bigger.
|ADDITIONAL 2011-12 SEASON IN REVIEWS|
|JASON SMITH||JARRETT JACK||GUSTAVO AYON|
|MARCO BELINELLI||LANCE THOMAS||XAVIER HENRY|
|EMEKA OKAFOR||CHRIS KAMAN||ERIC GORDON|
|GREIVIS VASQUEZ||AL-FAROUQ AMINU||TREVOR ARIZA|
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