The answer to the Wizards prayers came in Jason Smith, perhaps the most unlikliest of their offseason moves. They allowed Jared Dudley to leave in free agency without an offer, Drew Gooden was not longer able to proved the start he had previously and eventually retired and Kris Humphries had to be shipped in a trade after a failed "stretch 4" experiment.
Smith, who'd set a career-best with four made three-pointers in a game at the L.A. Clippers during a five-game road trip, set a new marker for himself Tuesday by going 5-for-9 from deep en route to 17 points in leading a comeback for a 118-111 win over the Charlotte Hornets.
"I told him take his mask off. He's really Ryan Anderson," said Markieff Morris of Smith, who signed a three-year, $15 million deal last summer. "It just gives another dimension to our team, a guy coming off the bench shooting threes like that."
That Morris mentions Anderson is appopriate. CSNmidatlantic.com reported after the Wizards whiffed on recruting Kevin Durant in free agency that Anderson was among their top targets as long as his pricetag didn't rise above $15 million-$16 million range. Anderson, who was confident that he was going to be in Washington, was shocked that an offer never came and he accepted $20 million per year for the next four from the Houston Rockets.
When Smith was signed, the face-up 7-footer had averaged just 7.2 points and 25% from three last season in 76 appearances with the Orlando Magic. This season, he's only averaging 5.6 but shooting 49.2% from three in 69 games. His overall shooting is 53.1% as he is automatic on elbow jumpers.
On the surface, it doesn't add up. But it does. Coach Scott Brooks has dropped Smith from the rotation completely at times when Ian Mahinmi returned from knee injuries. To clear a spot for him to get minutes, Smith has been sacrificed. Even after shooting 6 of 7 for 17 points in win at the Phoenix Suns, Smith was a healthy scratch the next game.
And before that, Smith was 4-for-4 during 10 minutes to spark a blowout victory at the Toronto Raptors but didn't play in the next game, either.
That Smith handles these moments with such professionalism is part of his allure. Even as he explained what took place Tuesday, he deferred to his teammates such as John Wall, Bradley Beal, Kelly Oubre and Bojan Bogdanvoic for setting the table for his offense.
"It's not me," Smith, in his ninth season, said. "It's John, it's Brad, it's Kelly, it's Bojan. They're all attacking the rim. I just space out. It's a credit to them."
When the season began, Smith was out of sorts as were the Wizards in a 2-8 start. He was on the floor with Andrew Nicholson and Marcus Thornton. Neither complemented him. It's a classic of case of playing with better players now has allowed Smith to be better.
During the 2016 calendar year, Smith attempted just two three-point shots. In 2017, he has taken 68. He's big enough to play at the five spot behind Marcin Gortat and versatile enough to play behind Morris at the four.
But to reduce Smith's value to just shooting is not doing him justice, and what he does isn't always quantifiable by a number. The eye test is best. And he's correct in Beal and the like are forcing defenses into such chaos, all he has to do is find the soft spot for the high-percentage look.
This the NBA in 2017. Screens are everywhere. If the switches are done properly the opponent takes the least likely to be made shot. That happens with Kemba Walker. He makes the jumper but Smith gets close enough to deny him the open three (the ideal shot) because he's 7 feet tall and can close to contest because of his athleticism. And by not being too close Walker he doesn't give up the driving lane There's no middle which is where Walker would have the most options. Instead he takes the long two via stepback.
Smith makes repeated switches, the most important one is cutting off Walker to help John Wall on the sideline. Imagine if Smith is late to that spot. Walker has a clear path to turn the corner and get to the rim. But Smith makes the initial switch with Gortat (from Marvin Williams to Cody Zeller) to stopping the ball and then sliding back to Williams as he fades to the weak side. Proper rotations eveywhere. The ball ends up out of bounds.
In the middle of the frontline, that's the MIG -- Most Important Guy -- or the 2.9 which is how many seconds you can stay in the lane without being called for a violation. Smith has to decide when to slide to the ball and when to slide towards his man floating weakside in case of a reversal or skip pass. He has to have good enough reaction time to successfully do both and does, blocking Jeremy Lamb on help to stop the layup. It's a multi-tasking role.
Smith knocks down the three. But look at everything he does to get Beal the look before settling into the soft spot as the defense forgets to account for him. Take away Beal. Take away Gortat. Oh, what about Smiths' three-ball?
This is just a snapshot of what Smith has done so effecitvely. His $5 million per year is a bargain compared to other fowards on the market at the time.
-- Mirza Teletovic (Bucks): 3 years, $30 million for 6.4 points, 34.3% three-point shooting and less than 40% shooting overall. And not able to play as a spread five or defend at anywhere near Smith's level.
--Luol Deng (Lakers): 4 years, $72 million for 7.6 points, 31.1% three-point shooting and less than 40% shooting overall. Also, not able to play the spread five or defend that spot.
--Solomon Hill (Pelicans): 4 years, $52 million for 7.0 points, 35.8% three-point shooting and less than 40% overall shooting. Can be a solid defender away from the rim, but can't play or defend the low-post spots at 6-7.
There are plenty of other examples of players who are less efficient but cost more than Smith, but as important as the film or the stats is how he fits on a roster led by young stars.
"Jason is one of the best, true professionals that I've played with," Wall said. "A guy that didn't get too many minutes on the road trip and comes back and have a big game for us today. He's just always ready. ... Couldn't ask for more from a guy like that."
With the playoffs near, expect Brooks to rely on Smith more rather than less. His veteran's attitude has allowed him to toy with certain combinations to figure out what to do in the future and chances are that'll be rewarded.
He knows what he has in Smith. There are no longer any questions. Smith has Dudley's three-point shooting ability, Humphries' strength and Gooden's likability rolled into one roster spot.
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