In Greg Smith, Rockets Find Another Hidden Gem

Greg Smith, a previously unheralded and undrafted second-year player out of Fresno State, entered the realm of NBA relevance with a crucial role in Houston’s 107-105 win over the Lakers on December 4th. In 24 minutes of action that included much of a tight fourth quarter, Smith took over Asik’s role as the roll man in the Rockets’ pick-and-roll attack, racking up a career-high 21 points on 7-8 shooting and 7-8 from the line. Since then, despite not necessarily garnering a larger role (Smith is playing slightly more than his season average of 14 minutes in recent games), Smith has been sneakily efficient: he is in the top 20 in PER at 22.3, tied with likely NBA All-Stars Chris Bosh and Anderson Varejao. While he is unlikely to maintain that level of efficiency throughout an entire season, Rockets fans should be excited that their team has a young big man who can contribute on both ends of the floor- a relatively rare commodity in today’s NBA.

So far this season, having Greg Smith on the floor has yielded benefits for the Rockets. According to 82games.com, the Rockets score 9 more points per 100 possessions with Smith on the floor and give up only 0.5 more points per 100 possessions: in fact, Houston is a net +8 points per 100 possessions with Smith in the ballgame. In line-ups in which Smith replaces Asik (but the other four starters remain), the Rockets are scoring a ridiculous 108 points per 100 possessions and giving up only 98 points on the other end of the floor. Furthermore, according to NBA.com, the top three Rockets line-ups this season in terms of plus-minus all feature Greg Smith. Granted, the sample size for these line-ups is miniscule (the four aforementioned line-ups have played less than 100 minutes so far) and Smith also has the luxury of facing second-unit defenders.

Nonetheless, Smith has proven to be a useful player and has improved drastically on last year’s campaign. According to Basketball Reference, on a 36-minute basis, Smith is scoring a whopping 10 more points this season as well as shooting 6 free throws compared with zero last season. Smith is shooting 61% from the field and giving up only one turnover per 36 minutes, compared with 48% shooting and three turnovers for the Rockets’ starting center, Omer Asik. Much of Smith’s value comes from his ability to finish or draw fouls in the paint. According to Hoopdata, Smith is shooting a robust 67% at the rim, where he attempts 75% of his shots. Smith also draws fouls on 23% of shots he takes—this, coupled with the fact that he’s shooting 76% from the line explains his offensive efficiency and his stellar 66% True Shooting Percentage. Indeed, watching Smith play, he seems like a more natural pick and roll big man than Asik. Smith has better hands, turns the ball over less, and is more capable of finishing around the basket (Asik, however, still sets superior screens).

In Greg Smith, the Rockets have a young, offensively capable big man on a dirt-cheap contract (Smith makes less than $1 million this year and next). While Smith lacks even a rudimentary post-game or a spot up jumper, the ability to score as a roll man can pay huge dividends for a team offensively (see Tyson Chandler on the Knicks). Houston’s success with Greg Smith also underscores an oft-overlooked aspect of the Rockets organization: the importance of the Houston’s D-League affiliate, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. Since the ’09-’10 season, the Vipers have been the “single-affiliate” D-League team for the Rockets, meaning the Rockets organization manages but do not own the Vipers. This has led to an increasingly tight relationship between the two teams, with the Rockets sending young draft picks (Marcus Morris, Terrence Jones, D-Mo) down to the Vipers to develop their skills as well as calling up productive Vipers players including Greg Smith, who played there for much of last season. This is yet another example of the small things the Rockets’ front office does to gain a competitive advantage over other NBA franchises.

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Total comments: 16
  • ale11 says 1 YEAR ago The kid showed potential, but clearly he is not ready yet. We all got caught up in excitement because he proved he can play, but maybe not consistently yet. Let's hope he figures it out
  • Red94 says 1 YEAR ago New post: Greg Smith demoted to the Vipers
  • DaDakota says 1 YEAR ago I love Greg Smith, was pissed off when they cut him last year - I do question his listed height though, but he reminds me more of Otis Thorpe than any Rocket since.

    DD
  • mingwang says 1 YEAR ago Good points by Stephen and Rahat. I'll admit I hadn't noticed Smith's post moves; I'll be on the lookout for them when they play Memphis tonight.
  • feelingsupersonic says 1 YEAR ago The game Huq might be recalling might have been the Wizards game because I remember those moves but I must admit the defense they played on Smith wasn't all that challenging if my memory serves me right. In that game against the Wizards at Toyota Center Smith also had a turnover or two from his clumsiness down low. He is young and will develop his game as well as gain a level of comfort that comes with time on the court.

    Maybe Greg Smith turns out to be Carl Landry 2.0 for the Rockets. That high motor big off the bench that has enough energy to make an impact and not be an undersized liability. Whereas Landry is 6'8" with a 6'11" wingspan Smith is a true 6'10" with a 7'3" wingspan according to Draft Express profiles. I do not envision a scenario where Smith would challenge Asik or even satisfactorily supplement what he does and in actuality Smith could be that Taj Gibson type role player off the bench which would be very valuable to a strong 8 to 9 man rotation.
  • Bigtkirk says 1 YEAR ago This Wages of Wins blog post notes that Smith is the most productive bench player in the league so far this season:

    http://wagesofwins.com/2012/12/20/the-mvp-race-part-2-depth-charts-least-valuable-players-and-the-sunk-cost-fallacy/
  • bboley24 says 1 YEAR ago Haha! "Bendiness" I like it Rahat! Dare I say... "Dream-like" flexibility?
  • rockets best fan says 1 YEAR ago no doubt the rockets may have found an unpolished diamond in smith. I can't believe with all the scoutting done in the league that this guy went undrafted. kudos to the rockets for doing their homework. I don't think he is a threat to asik right now, but by next year asik may be looking over his shoulder a bit. this is the most excited I have been about rockets bigs since...........well since yao in his hey day. I'm not saying I think one of these guy has a chance to be as good, but this is the 1st time in a long time we have had real high ceiling talent at that position. I know some in the fourm are calling for us to trade for a big at PF,but whats happening at center now will happen at PF given time. which is why I would rather see the rockets stand pat at those positions (center,PF) unless love or cousin or someone like that becomes available. all these guy need is time to develope. if we are patient we may already have that which we think we need.
  • Red94 says 1 YEAR ago New post: More on Greg Smith
  • bob schmidt says 1 YEAR ago I love the simplicity of Greg's game. He competes on every play, and seems to be under control better than many veterans. Not to mention that he occupies a lot of space when in the paint. The other aspect that impresses me is his attitude. Instead of trying to call attention to himself as is the new norm for a lot of players, he remains humble and anxious to improve his skills. In short, he is wise beyond his years and a great asset for the team...
  • Alituro says 1 YEAR ago So, would Smith be the Rockets' version of Arian Foster? He is definitely a diamond in the rough. A little more confidence and participation from him and we will see him develop the post up game and not be trigger shy on jump shots. He should be a decent jump shooter judging from his success at the line. I can understand his hesitance to work out of his comfort zone right now given that he's trying to solidify his part in the rotations. Once he starts seeing regular play time we should see him trying other aspects of his game. He's very young. Kudos to the Rockets player development program. It's hard not to root for this kid. Nice write-up.
  • rocketrick says 1 YEAR ago Great article on Greg Smith and well written by Ming. I for one am pleased that Greg Smith is a Rocket. However, I don't see him overtaking Asik in the starting lineup as implied by Johnny Rocket in his comments because Asik brings so much more to the team on the defensive end of the court. I also expect that Asik's offensive game will improve over time as well. Still, Greg Smith is a key role player for our team now and into the foreseeable future in my opinion. I expect we'll see a few more 20+ point/10+ rebound games from him as the season plays out, too.
  • Johnny Rocket says 1 YEAR ago Great article. If Smith is indeed more effective with the starters, does that imply that he should start, at least at some point in February and March? I suspect his fairly high foul rate is the reason he comes off the bench, but at some point he's going to be much better than Asik (if he isn't there already).
  • Jeby says 1 YEAR ago The amazing thing to me about Smith's offensive success is that it's so simple: Hands and Hops. He catches everything, goes up with it immediately, and his elevation and reach are so tremendous that he will either dunk or get fouled. His movement to find space without the ball is good too, but not as good as Asik's.
    So next time you hear Jay Bilas ranting about "great hands!" "36-inch vertical!" "WINGSPAN!" remember Greg Smith. Dude had some of the best measurables in last year's draft, but some of the least polished skills--the polar opposite of Marcus Morris, by the way. After just one season, those two guys are having roughly the same amount of success.
  • Stephen says 1 YEAR ago Ming,
    Smith has shown a nice jump hook in the post on the few occasions he's been fed on the low post. It is much smoother,more powerful and more accurate than Patterson's.
  • NorEastern says 1 YEAR ago A great article! I do find it interesting that the Rockets young players are seeming to embrace and make the most of their D-League assignments. White of course is excluded. When Patterson and Morris went down it seemed to foster acrimony. I believe that the team and the rookies will benefit immensely from the relationship, and the young players will improve quicker.