Panthers WR Smith, 33, keeps piling up numbers

Panthers WR Smith, 33, keeps piling up numbers

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Panthers receiver Steve Smith said there was a time when he was consumed by his goals, one of them being making the Hall of Fame.

Make no doubt it; he'd still love to wind up there.

But the 12-year NFL veteran has mellowed some, taking a little more time to enjoy the twilight of the NFL career as he quietly strives to become the first player ever drafted by the Panthers to make it to Canton, Ohio.

``When you are so focused on goals you start to miss other things,'' Smith said. ``So I'm enjoying not missing the other things. I'll allow the other things to be discussed when I'm done playing.''

In the meantime, the 33-year-old Smith plans to continue to spin the ball after catches and irritate defensive backs who attempt to shut him down.

That's no easy task.

Smith's latest 100-yard receiving game Sunday against Atlanta was the 43rd of his career, putting him in the top 10 in NFL history.

He currently ranks 26th all-time with 11,277 yards receiving and 32nd in receptions (759). He needs 197 catches and 2,500 yards receiving to move into the top 10 in both categories.

Those around him believe he's more than capable of reaching those marks with a few more seasons playing alongside Cam Newton.

``He still plays like he's 22,'' Panthers coach Ron Rivera said.

Despite being at the tail end of his career, Smith is still Carolina's unquestioned No. 1 receiver.

He leads the Panthers in receptions and enters Sunday's game against San Diego one yard shy of his seventh 1,000-yard receiving season. When Newton needs a big play, more often than not he's looking Smith's way.

And how can you blame him?

``You know what's interesting about Steve is the way he practices,'' Rivera said. ``He still practices so hard and you actually have to ask him to take reps off. ... Then he'll go back in right away and go 100 miles per hour again. It's just who Steve is, and that's why he's had so much success and has lasted as long as he has.''

Chargers coach Norv Turner compares Smith to Henry Ellard, another seemingly ageless receiver who turned in a 1,000-yard receiving season at 35.

``My experience with receivers like Steve is once they get to a point and they haven't slowed down, it seems like they go forever,'' Turner said. ``The thing that Steve has aside from all his athleticism - his great speed, his strength, his ability to cut - is just has that attitude that's so competitive that he's going to go out and be successful.

``And I think when you're getting ready to play against him, you better understand it's going to be a dogfight, it's going to be competitive, it's going to be toe-to-toe for 60 plays and you'd better be ready to meet that challenge.''

Panthers fourth-year cornerback Captain Munnerlyn called Smith is the best receiver he's ever faced ``by far.''

``That's great for me because I practice against him,'' Munnerlyn said. ``It makes the game on Sunday way easier for me.''

Munnerlyn said he hasn't seen Smith lose a step.

He said he's still the quickest receiver on the roster and the toughest to defend.

``He's amazing. Being that age, he can still run.'' Munnerlyn said. ``That's the scary part. Honestly it doesn't seem like he's slowing down anytime soon.''

Former Tampa Bay and Carolina receiver Mark Carrier played in the NFL until he was 32 and can't imagine playing at the level Smith is right now.

Carrier said at some point in time the body begins to wear down, but Smith doesn't seem affected by any of that.

``I think his competitiveness is what drives him,'' Carrier said.

Smith has made plenty of mistakes off the field during his time in Carolina, but he's matured into a team leader and captain.

He continues to pass his knowledge along to the younger receivers on the roster.

``We're all in awe of the way he plays,'' said Panthers rookie receiver Jared Green, a member of the team's practice squad. ``But he also gives us a systematic and academic approach to the game and to our playbook. Without him, I don't think we'd learn all of the things we have as quick.''

As for his own future, Smith said he's not sure how much longer he'll play.

But he's not thinking about retirement.

He still likes playing.

But he loves proving people wrong even more.

``People will say well, he got (1,000 yards) but he's lost a step and he's not that and he isn't this,'' Smith said. ``But there aren't too many 5-foot-9 receivers who are 33 years old that are getting 1,000 yards or were at the Pro Bowl last year.

``So I guess I'm doing OK. Not bad.''

Smith said he'll take time to savor this Sunday's game against San Diego as it serves as a homecoming of sorts. He grew up in inner city Los Angeles, so he'll have a rare opportunity to play in front of his parents and some friends.

As for where he ends up, Smith said that's a discussion for another day.

``When I'm done playing I'll sit on my porch with a little iced tea in my hand,'' Smith said. ``I will see where I end up when the end comes.''

And until then?

``I'm just going to keep spinning that ball,'' Smith said.


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Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

The Wizards' selection of Troy Brown of the University of Oregon with their first round pick has been met with a strong reaction among fans, many of whom argue he doesn't play a position of need, that it was a luxury pick when other areas could have been addressed, most notably in their frontcourt. Big man Robert Williams of Texas A&M, for example, was still on the board. 

The Wizards, though, did address needs by picking Brown. And really, they arguably filled more pressing needs in the short-term than those at power forward and center.

Though the Wizards clearly need some help at big man in the long-term, as both of their starting bigs are on expiring deals, they need help immediately at both shooting guard and small forward. Brown, though he is only 18 years old and offers no guarantees to contribute right away, can play both of those positions.

Shooting guard is where he can help the most. The Wizards have one backup shooting guard in Jodie Meeks and he is due to miss the first 19 games of the 2018-19 season while serving a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.

Even when Meeks was available this past season, he only helped so much. He shot just 39.9 percent from the field and 34.3 percent from three. Head coach Scott Brooks often chose to rely more on starter Bradley Beal than go to Meeks as his replacement. As a result, Beal logged the fourth-most minutes of any player in the NBA.

More depth at shooting guard will help relieve Beal of some of that workload. That would be great for keeping him fresh throughout the season and help him be at his best when they need him most in the playoffs.

The Wizards also have some urgency at small forward. It is their strongest position in terms of one-two on the depth chart, but they have no logical third option. That was magnified in the playoffs once Otto Porter got injured. They were left with Kelly Oubre, Jr. and had to trot out Tomas Satoransky, who has limited experience at the position.

Brown can play both shooting guard and small forward, giving them much needed depth. If he can play well enough to earn a rotation spot, the emergency situations the Wizards encountered last season could be avoided in 2018-19.

The Wizards still need to find long-term solutions at power forward and center, but they were going to need to find answers at shooting guard and small forward as well. Both Meeks and Oubre have one year left on their deals. Brown helps solidify the long-term outlook at wing.

Now, there's no denying the Wizards already had considerable talent at both shooting guard and small forward with Beal, Porter and Oubre. That begs the question of how much Brown can offer particularly in the first year of his career. But the Wizards would like to play more positionless basketball and to do that requires depth at wing.

The Boston Celtics have helped make positionless basketball famous and their roster shows that the one player-type you can't have enough of is similar to Brown. Boston has Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Morris. All are around 6-foot-7 or 6-foot-8 and offer versatility on both ends of the floor.

The Wizards also now have four players of that size and with positional versatility in Brown, Porter, Oubre and Satoransky. They can roll out different combinations of those guys and possibly have an advantage on defense with the ability to switch seamlessly on screens.

In the age of positionless basketball, players of Brown's ilk have become major assets especially for teams that have many of them. There is such a thing as having too many point guards or centers because they can't coexist on the floor. Versatile wings, in most scenarios, can play together in numbers.

It's different but in a way similar to certain positions in other sports. In baseball, you can have too many catchers but you can't have too many talented pitchers and utility players. In football, you can have too many running backs or tight ends, but you can't have too many defensive linemen. 

Brown gives them options from a roster perspective in the long-term. Oubre has one year left on his contract and if he continues his trejectory with a strong 2018-19 season, he could price himself out of Washington. Brown could move up the depth chart as his replacement one year from now. The Wizards also now have the option to consider trades at the position given their depth.

The problem, one could argue, with drafting Brown over a Williams-type is that it limits their options at center in particular. Drafting Williams would have made it easier to trade Marcin Gortat, for instance, because they would have had depth to deal from. Now, it's more difficult to trade Gortat, whom they have shopped on and off for months, without a plan to replace him. Finding a Gortat substitute in free agency with the limited resource they have would not be easy.

But big man wasn't their only need and in Brown the Wizards may have found a solution at other areas where they clearly needed help.


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Wizards' second round pick Issuf Sanon will take time, much like Tomas Satoransky did


Wizards' second round pick Issuf Sanon will take time, much like Tomas Satoransky did

The first round of the NBA Draft played out expectedly for what the Wizards had planned for the night. In Troy Brown, they clearly got the guy they wanted all along, seeing as there were many interesting prospects they passed on to choose him.

The second round was a bit more chaotic. Team president Ernie Grunfeld said there were a few players picked just ahead of them at No. 44 that they had their eyes on. They contemplated trading up, but no perfect deals were presented.

So, they decided to think long-term, like really long-term. In choosing Ukrainian point guard Issuf Sanon, the Wizards understand it may be years before he plays in the NBA.

"We hope to have him developed in a few years," Grunfeld said.

Sanon, just 18, plays for Olimpija Ljubljana in Slovenia. He may stay in Europe into his 20s before he comes to the United States.

The Wizards have utilized the draft-and-stash model with other players. Their 2015 second round pick, Aaron White, has been playing in Europe for the past three seasons.

Sometimes those players never convey and contribute for the Wizards. But sometimes they do and Grunfeld pointed to a player already on their roster as a model to consider.

"We drafted Tomas [Satoransky] at an earlier age, he went overseas [and] he played at the highest level and it got him ready for the NBA," Grunfeld said.

The difference between now and then is that the Wizards have a G-League franchise starting this fall, the Capital City Go-Go. Because of that, it seemed more likely going into the draft that the Wizards would use the second round pick on a guy who can play there right away. 

Grunfeld, however, opted for roster flexibility. By keeping Sanon in Europe, the Wizards can have another open roster spot. They could either fill that spot, or leave spots on the end of their roster open as they did for much of last season.

"We want to preserve a roster spot, so just because you draft someone in your second round, if you sign him, he still has a roster spot even if you let him play for the GoGo," Grunfeld said.

Sanon may have a bright future. He is a 6-foot-4 point guard with impressive athleticism who doesn't turn 19 until October. He said he models his game after Russell Westbrook, as a guard who can score the ball. More will be known about him once he plays for their summer league team in July.

The Wizards passed on several interesting prospects to pick Sanon. Still on the board were Keita Bates-Diop of Ohio State, Hamidou Diallo of Kentucky and Svi Mykhailiuk of Kansas, three players they brought in for pre-draft workouts. But instead, they went with a long-term investment, hoping they found the next Satoransky.


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