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Huq’s Pen: On Greg Smith

  • In a move that came as a bit of a shock (to use that term loosely), the Rockets announced yesterday that they had waived forward/center Greg Smith and signed center Dexter Pittman to replace him for the remainder of the year.  First, before I dive into the obituary on Smith, a funny story on Pittman: our days at the 40 acres collided, though I can’t remember for how long and in what year.  That in and of itself is depressing.  In any event, one day, word spread that campus legend Vince Young was on site at Gregory gym.  Naturally, myself and a few trusted colleagues headed over to check out the scene.  (If it comes as odd to you that anyone would interrupt their daily schedule to see Young, realize that this was a) before it was realized that he isn’t a very good quarterback at the professional level and b) this was on the 40 acres where the man stands behind only maybe Jesus Christ and Elvis Pressley as the most significant figures in human history.)  Young and his entourage were partaking in a game of pickup on the main center court, much to the delight of a massive crowd of onlookers.  Pittman was part of the aforementioned entourage.  I can’t remember who else.  Maybe T.J Ford?  In any event, Young played it safe the entire game, launching lazy perimeter jumpers but at one point went crashing down after absorbing contact from a driving Pittman.  Young turned and remarked to the crowd, “damn, that’s a big boy.”  That’s it; that was the story.  Slow news day.
  • I swear I have a post somewhere, specifically about Greg Smith where I devote at least half of it to a monologue about how difficult it is to forecast young players because the likelihood of success is so small.  I’m serious, I wrote about this but can’t find it.  Anyways, wow – this is why you just can never feel safe about player projection.  It is hard to succeed in the NBA – it is hard.  We don’t fully appreciate that.  I said in the other Smith piece–and probably put it much more succinctly–we often look at ten year vets who never amounted to much and deride them dismissively as “scrubs”…and while they may not rank highly on the NBA totem pole, in the job market, lasting ten years in one of the most highly specialized workforces in the entire global economy is damn impressive.  Now, to be sure, Smith isn’t going to flame out completely.  He’ll catch on somewhere quickly.  But the greater point stands.  We too often see a tantalizing stretch of play and assume long-term extrapolation as a guarantee.  After that game last year where Smith outplayed Dwight Howard (the irony) to the tune of like 20 and 10, how many of you thought Smith was the team’s future at center?  At the least, how many of you thought he’d be a long term fixture in the team’s rotation?  Had I told you after that night, or hell, after the end of last year when Smith closed out the season at power forward next to Asik helping the team to a sparkling overall +/-, that Smith would be outright waived in less than a year’s time (in favor of Dexter Pittman of all people), it might have come as hard to believe.  But this is the NBA, man.  It’s hard to succeed.

  • That leads me to a tangent.  We always talk about “surprises.”  What a huge “surprise” Chandler Parsons is and how great that pick was yada, yada, yada etc.  Patrick Beverley etc.  But you know what I find even more remarkable?  Delivered expectations.  Take Lebron.  The thing I find so amazing about Lebron isn’t that he’s this good but that he actually met the hype.  He actually met the hype!  This was a guy who had been followed since before high school, a guy about whom an NBA GM famously said prior to that draft that there were only five current NBA players he wouldn’t trade for, a guy whose high school games were televised nationally….and he met the hype!  He is in the conversation as GOAT!  They said he couldn’t shoot and needed a post-game and now a) he has the best postup efficiency stats in the league and b) is a 50-40 shooter!  Same thing with Harden.  He was acquired to be “the man” and he’s doing it!  Am I the only person here who finds that amazing?  I know that upon the basis of his per-minute efficiency stats, extrapolation was probably a natural conclusion….but still….I don’t think it’s really settled in for me personally that we essentially acquired a top-5 player before his prime for what amounted to a few months of Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, and Danny Schayes’ younger brother.  Okay, enough.  Back to Smith.
  • What exactly happened here?  On the surface, I found myself often perplexed last season as to how Smith hadn’t been highly regarded coming out.  This was a fully grown NBA big with athleticism, maybe the best hands in the entire league, and, judging from the many times I spoke with him, a damn good attitude.  (I know a lot of guys are good at just feeding the media whatever it wants to hear but trust me…when someone has a bad attitude, they don’t even bother.  See: Will, T.)  Smith was atrocious defensively, especially with interior rotations but that’s fairly common with young bigs (see: Jones, T.) and something said young bigs can grow out of with more playing time (see: Jones, T.).  The actual reason Smith was cut was because he’s been injured all year, won’t be ready in time for the playoffs, and more importantly wasn’t deemed valuable enough to extend in the summer forfeiting 2015 cap space.  But still.  I beg to differ.  If Smith actually held even an ounce of the promise he showed last season, I don’t think he would have been let go this easily, playoffs/cap be damned.  You just don’t let good young bigs go for nothing: Pittman won’t see a second of playing time in the postseason with Asik and Motiejunas around, so I don’t buy the notion that they just had to have an extra big for the stretch run; they could have found creative ways to save the money.  No.  I think Smith ultimately just wasn’t as good as he looked to us on the surface.  I’d venture to guess that the coaches determined that he just wasn’t picking things up quickly enough to be able to help the team in the next two years.  This was a disastrously lazy interior defender of whom we’re speaking.  I think he just wasn’t showing any signs of ever getting better.  And that takes us back to our main point – success in this league isn’t a foregone conclusion.

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About the author: Rahat Huq is a lawyer in real life and the founder and editor-in-chief of www.Red94.net.

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