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The Evolution Of Josh Smith

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A great shooter once said, “I just shoot the ball. Like, I don’t question going to the bathroom. I don’t question eating. It’s just that simple for me.”

That shooter happened to be Ray Allen and he doesn’t just happen to hold the record for most three-point field goals made of all-time by coincidence.

Josh Smith‘s three-point misfortune during his career isn’t by coincidence either. However, not only has Smith recently changed his mindset but he’s finally cashing in from long range.

I feel refreshed, it’s like a breath of fresh air.” That’s how Houston Rockets’ forward Josh Smith described his revamped mentality since his arrival in Houston. After Monday’s road win over the Indiana Pacers, Smith gave a little insight to his latest hot-shooting performances.

I feel refreshed, it’s like a breath of fresh air. –  Smith

Guys are telling me, when I’m open to take the shot. My teammates are behind me. The coaching staff are doing a great job at coming in the gym with me and helping me.”

That assurance that Rockets’ players give Smith hadn’t been a luxury previously in his career. Smith has evolved his game by acquiring patience and trust. If he can continue to embed those traits, he can improve the Rockets’ defective bench.

Arguably, the most essential prerequisite before becoming a good shooter is practice.

I’m putting in a lot of work and shooting with a ton of confidence… I’m trying to take [shots] in rhythm instead of taking the stare-down three pointer.” His work ethic has translated into helping the Rockets win four of their last five games. Smith has been shooting the three-ball at 64 percent (9 for 14) in his previous four contests. I’m not saying that Smith now has a chance at honing the same excellence as Allen did from downtown but the change in scenery may help silence the critics.

Then vs. Now

Smith has never been a 20 points and 10 rebounds type of player. His strength lies within his versatility and athletic ability to defend and slash. His arsenal never included threatening defenses with his shooting range but that never stopped him from seeking approval from behind the arc.

Entering the NBA in 2004, fresh out of Oak Hill Academy, Smith decided to minimize his three-point attempts. The three feet increment between high school and NBA three pointers appeared to be too much of a transition as Smith only hit four of his 23 attempts. In the next few following years, his attempts increased but his accuracy lobbied at 30 percent and below.

In the turmoil-filled relationship between former Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Woodson and Josh Smith, there was a clash of interest in regards to the amount of three-pointers Smith should take. Woodson preferred the team to take about 16 per game. He wanted Smith to take none. He figured he had enough shooters in Joe Johnson, Mike Bibby, Jamal Crawford and Maurice Evans.

In the 2009-10 season, Smith played and started in 81 of 82 games but only shot seven three pointers… and didn’t make one. The Hawks got swept in the second round (for the second consecutive year) by the Orlando Magic and decided not to bring Woodson back. Yet, Smith did bring back his jumper.

How can you blame him? By that time, the NBA had emerged and profoundly introduced bigs to the three point line. Smith watching other power forwards take jumpers is equivalent to a kid watching his friends play outside because their parents’ said he had to stay inside. Once Woodson left, Smith spread his wings the moment he hit the playground.

In the next couple years, Smith chucked up hundreds of threes but still shot at a low clip. In 2013, Smith was shipped to the Detroit Pistons where he would later meet a mirror image of Mike Woodson in Stan Van Gundy.

Smith shot the most threes (265) he ever has in a single season during his first year with the Pistons, but only made 26 percent of them. When Van Gundy arrived during their off-season, he shut that down immediately.

Before the 2014-15 season began, Van Gundy talked about Smith and said, “He’s one of the elite guys in the league around the basket… So he needs to get more of those. He knows that. He also understands he really doesn’t need to shoot threes for this team.”

That concept (and probably more behind the scene lectures) resulted in Smith only shooting from behind the arc in late-clock situations.

In his 28 games with the Pistons this season, he only attempted 1.3 three pointers per game. Since his move to the Rockets, that average has almost tripled at 3.3 attempts per game… with less minutes. Not to mention, he’s also shooting the best percentage of his career from downtown in Houston.

34% isn’t ideal but it’s an improvement. The solution, you ask? Belief.

Going Forward

Ray Allen also formerly said, “When people say God blessed me with a beautiful jump shot, … I tell those people, ‘Don’t undermine the work I’ve put in every day. Not some days. Every day. Ask anyone who has been on a team with me who shoots the most.

One thing a coach engraves in his shooters is “a shooter keeps shooting.” Smith isn’t forcing bad looks but instead, he’s letting the game come to him and does not allow shattering thoughts to disable his focus.

When people say God blessed me with a beautiful jump shot, … I tell those people, ‘Don’t undermine the work I’ve put in every day. Not some days. Every day. – Ray Allen

My kids are loving the weather. I’m having fun again,” Smith told Jerry Stackhouse.”

We want to do something special this year in the postseason and we feel like we have the talent to do it. Everybody’s mentally prepared and mentally focused to sacrifice for each other to do whatever it takes.”

This disparate feeling Smith has finally captured is allowing him to utilize his talents better. He feels he has a home and his teammates have instilled trust in him. If you don’t believe he’s feeling better in Houston, I present to you exhibit A:

If he continues to efficiently shoot the three, he can be a surprise threat during the playoffs. This can only reward Houston fans because ultimately when you feel better, you play better.

Next: Superman is NOT walking through that door, just Dwight

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