Josh Smith, in the home of "because there are no fours." (Getty Images)
There are several different ways to get to the heart of what is really bugging fans of a particular NBA team. You could check out a team-specific blog to see which column influenced the largest amount of comments. You could lope over to a message board, and see which thread goes for the longest amount of pages. You could dial in the local radio airwaves for an hour. Or, you could watch as Atlanta-based journalist (and presumably particularly ardent Atlanta Hawks fan) Charles Bethea repeatedly and righteously grills new Hawks GM Danny Ferry about Josh Smith's love of the 3-pointer.
It's a great interview, over at Grantland, and we're sorry for distilling Bethea's work into a simple takeaway, but the dude really doesn't like watching Josh Smith shoot 3-pointers. Here's a sampling of Charles' efforts to get Ferry to just about outlaw the shot from Smith's low-percentage arsenal (Bethea's questions are bolded):
And you think Josh Smith will get off the three-point line?
I think Josh will have opportunities to play all over. Before I came here, we were watching tape of Josh, and one of the things I enjoy is his ability to pass the basketball. The spacing that they'll have, maybe create double teams — hit him in the post or driving to the basket — I think that his passing will be even more advanced.
There is frustration about his tendency to want to shoot the three. Is that something you or Larry will talk with him about?
I'm still learning our group. Ultimately, Larry will coach the guys. And put some boundaries on all of them. But I think Josh is a pretty darn good player. And the impact he can have in making other players around him better. We may play through him and Teague and Al more than we ever have, and I think they will accept that responsibility and make good decisions.
Nobody doubts Josh's ability. It's his decision-making that seems off sometimes.
We get it, Charles. You no like-a the threes.
We also get that Josh should cut it out with all those threes, a shot that Hawks fans (not exactly the loudest in the NBA) have quite literally audibly groaned at during games about for years. It remains one of the NBA's routinely hilarious moments, with Josh lining up the bomb to the strains of the sort of sound you hear at a pee-wee hoops game where the kid dribbles in the wrong direction. We'd like the Hawks fans to be happy and for each of Josh's possessions to be used in the right way, but not at the expense of losing one of the funnier moments of our night spent with NBA League Pass.
In a part of the interview well worth reading, Bethea then prods Ferry to discuss his team's attempts at building an analytics program along the lines of the ones that served Ferry so well in his time spent with the San Antonio Spurs, and perhaps less so with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Ferry discusses how difficult it is to develop a weighted system based on how static and reliant on relationships basketball is, and that gives Charles enough time to catch his breath and go right back into talking about Josh Smith and 3-pointers:
In 2008-2009, Josh took 87 threes. In 2009-2010, he attempted just 7. In 2010-2011, he took about two per game. One theory is that someone made a bet with him before the 2009-2010 season that made him limit his threes. If true, would you make the same bet?
[Laughs] No comment.
Woodward and Bernstein weren't so dogged in following the money, and we love it.
The threes really are a tipping point. With Jeff Teague's sometimes unsteady play and the loss of Joe Johnson as a shot-creator, Smith will have added offensive responsibility in 2012-13. He'll probably be encouraged as one of the faces of the franchise along with Al Horford, and attempt to make up for the loss of Johnson's scoring punch with long shots even with two of the NBA's best shooters — Anthony Morrow and Kyle Korver — already on the Hawks' roster. The 1.7 3-pointers per game that Smith took last year might not seem like much, but he's made just 206 of his 741 career attempts — and a 27.8 percent mark leading to 618 points per 741 possessions ratio that just ain't all that good.
The "made a bet with him"-year that Bethea references really stands out, Smith made over half his overall field goals for the first time in his career, his 4.3 assists were a career high, and as a viewer I recall that at least three or four of those seven attempted 3-pointers were in buzzer-beating situations at the end of a quarter or half. That is to say, shots he was forced into heaving. Smith played excellent basketball last year in what was a career year, and at age 26 he's yet to hit his prime. If he can pair that fantastic play with his 2010-level of mindfulness from behind the arc, the Hawks could really have something.
It's not the end of the world if Smith wastes two possessions per game taking a shot he usually hits a quarter of the time, but as long as Bethea has his team's GM in his presence (an Atlanta outsider, until recently, who probably shares his dim view of that shot, for Josh), he's going to grill away.
It's a good read. Give it a look from inside 23 feet.
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