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Analyzing Josh Smith’s Success with the Houston Rockets

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Since the return of Josh Smith, the Houston Rockets have won three of their last four games, with Smith playing his best basketball of the season.

In a move that was almost as bizarre as last season’s deal in which the Rockets signed Smith after he had been waived by the Detroit Pistons, the Rockets landed Smith in a trade with the L.A. Clippers in which the Clippers basically unloaded Smith for very little in return.

After choosing to leave Houston during the offseason, Smith struggled to find success in Los Angeles. As a Clipper, Smith posted career lows for points per game (5.9), shooting percentage (3.8) and minutes per game (14.3). Those numbers fell even lower towards the end of his stint with the Clippers.

Being in an almost indentical situation as to what he was a year ago– where a team basically dumps him because they no longer believe he offers them any value– how is it that Smith is able to find success as a Rocket?

In part, Smith’s success is due to the Rockets system.

Josh Smith ladies and gentlemen: 13-for-46 FG 3-for-20 3FG in four games with the Rockets.

— Calvin Watkins (@calvinwatkins) January 28, 2016

One of the greatest knocks against Smith is that he shoots too many senseless three pointers.

Because part of the Rockets’ strategy is to shoot a high volume of three pointers (they shoot the most in the league), Smith’s shot selection sometimes gets overlooked. This allows for Smith to occasionally get hot and go off on teams from behind the arc, as was the case during the Rockets comeback in game six of the Western Conference semifinals.

It is unlikely that Smith’s heroic comeback would have ever happened anywhere else because other teams would have benched Smith before letting him put up so many three-point attempts.

The Rockets, however, are more forgiving of Smith’s poor three-point shooting since there are times that the entire Rockets lineup struggles to knock down the three ball.

That doesn’t mean that the Rockets are in support of Smith’s bad three-point shooting, it’s just that they are more accustomed to it. When the rest of the Rockets struggle to shoot the three ball, the Rockets still continue to put up shots from behind the arc, believing that the team three-point percentage will eventually level out to a satisfactory number.

With all that being considered, the fact that the Rockets allow a struggling Smith to shoot more threes than most teams would is not what directly contributes to Smith being successful. What it does do, however, is allow Smith a greater margin of error so that he has more time and more opportunity to find success.

Check this Josh Smith #shotfake vs Dirk: https://t.co/fQikvbuuYY

— InsideHoops.com NBA (@InsideHoops) January 24, 2016

As the league continues to feature more and more small ball lineups, a stretch four that can create their own offense is more valuable than ever before. Though Smith makes poor decisions at times, his ability to act as a playmaking power forward is essential to the Rockets’ success.

Outside of James Harden, the rest of the Rockets struggle to make plays by themselves. Most of the Rockets’ points by players not named Harden come from Harden setting up his teammates for spot up jumpers or buckets in the paint.

Smith, on the other hand, is able to create his own play after Harden gives him the ball. With two players able to be creative with the basketball, the Rockets offense flows more freely.

In pick and roll sets, Harden is able to find Smith on the roll, where Smith is then able to find open teammates whose defender has collapsed on him. This is also a part of Donatas Motiejunas‘ game that the Rockets have missed due to injury.

With Harden and Smith both being able to find open teammates, the ball finds its way to more Rockets on every possession.

Because Smith is such a good passer, he adds another dimension to the Rockets’ offense. Instead of having to rely on Harden to create offense for him, Smith is able to create offense for himself and his teammates.

Smith’s success as a Rocket is two-fold. In part, the Rockets’ system allows a for a greater margin of error, offering Smith a more substantial opportunity to prove himself. Given that opportunity, Smith then makes the most of it with his ability to make plays.

Look for the Rockets to try to get their fourth win since acquiring Smith tonight as they take on the Oklahoma City Thunder.

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