Josh Smith has been one of the most discussed and debated players in the NBA since he broke onto the scene in 2004 straight out of Oak Hill Academy, one of the elite basketball high schools in the United States. Smith has been a major proponent of the NBA’s recent rule that prohibits high school students from entering the NBA draft.
As for his accolades, Smith is the youngest player to block 10 shots in a game, record 50 career blocks and 1,000 career blocks. His defensive prowess is obvious, and that’s where most of his value lies. However, his shot selection is still questionable, as his overall decision-making. But Smith is an impending free agent, and he will get paid despite his deficiencies.
David Lee, meanwhile, was the final first-round pick in the 2005 draft. The New York Knicks took a flyer on the University of Florida product, and he proved his worth. Lee averaged 20.2 points and 11.7 rebounds per game with the Knicks in 2011-12, and his progression has continued with the Golden State Warriors.
But let’s start comparing Smith and Lee.
Lee just finished his eighth season in the NBA. Smith finished his ninth. Lee is 30 and Smith is 27. So hypothetically, would Smith actually be a better fit in the Bay Area than Lee?
Well, Smith and Lee were both highly-similar from a statistical standpoint this past year. Per 36 minutes, Lee averaged 18.1 points compared to Smith’s 17.8. Lee surprisingly collected more rebounds than Smith, but Smith blocked far more shots and collected more steals.
Lee is by far the better post player on the offensive end, but not as good of a post defender. Smith has an edge in the athleitism department, as he is one of the few current NBA big men who can collect a rebound, go coast-to-coast and finish the play.
Lee’s offensive win shares equal 5.4, meaning his offensive play translates in 5.4 wins for the Warriors. Smith’s offensive win shares total equals -0.3, or 0.3 losses. Overall (defense and offense), Lee accounts for nine overall win shares, whereas Smith accounts for only four.
These two clips are Smith’s career in a nutshell:
In this one, Smith is wide open breakaway against the Boston Celtics in last year’s postseason. Smith, being the overambitious flashy player that he is, tries to throw the ball down with style but misses the dunk and struggles to control his body after the miss.
His nickname is “J-Smoove” for a reason. Why in a playoff game would you attempt such a dunk when every possession is even more magnified and important? He costs his team two easy points, and who knows when you’ll need those two points to be there if it means winning a game or series.
Now watch some highlights from Atlanta’s Game 4 victory over the Indiana Pacers:
Smith knocks down a face-up jumper over Paul George, throws down an emphatic slam and sets up his teammates on multiple possessions in his 29-point performance. Smith is often a very flashy player, but he is an incredible athlete and highflyer. He can either posterize his opponents or miss an easy chance at two points like in the first video above.
Now watch this clip where Lee does his thing:
Note: These are his first half highlights from this past season
Lee scores in the post, he sets up his teammates for easy slams and he can shoot the mid-range jumper. He gets a steal, and while he does make a few lucky shots, there is far less flash than a Josh Smith montage.
For instance, Lee doesn’t miss breakaway dunks like Smith because he doesn’t take them. Also, Lee doesn’t miss three- pointers because he doesn’t take them (he only attempted four in 2012-13). In general, Lee is a more consistent player that understands his role and playing limits.
Though Smith is the younger player that is a better athlete and physical specimen, the Warriors should be glad they have Lee instead of Smith. Smith’s questionable decision-making is worrisome, and why would you want your power forward to attempt more than 200 three-pointers in a year when you have Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, two of the NBA’s best shooter.
On top of all that, Smith wants to be a star. He desperately wants a maximum contract in free agency this offseason, and while he will probably get one, he is not deserving of such a contract.
David Lee understands his role and is one of the best traditional power forwards in the league. He plays well with Curry, Thompson, Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut. Thus, he is a better fit in the Bay Area than Josh Smith.