Your 2011-12 MIH (Most Improved Hornet) – Jason Smith

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Published: April 17, 2012
One of the keys to Smith's improvement this year? He's doing a little less jump-shooting, and a lot more of this.

In a season featuring a good bit of disappointment for the Hornets, one pleasant surprise has been the vastly improved game of Jason Smith on both sides of the ball.

One of the keys to Smith's improvement? He's doing less jump-shooting & more of this.

When the Hornets inked Jason Smith to a 3-year, $7.5 million deal before the start of this season, I was admittedly skeptical. New Orleans had just decided to lock up a player though the summer of 2014 whose main redeeming qualities to date were his 7’0″ height and above average mid-range jumpshot for his size. He habitually struggled to rebound and defend more physical opponents without fouling, and lacked the ability to adjust his offensive game when teams began to respect his jumper. In his first three seasons in the NBA, Smith’s season-ending PERs came in between 10.64 and 10.84, well below the league average of 15.

Given all available data, it was unclear whether Smith could ever become anything more than a serviceable backup big man for a fringe playoff team. For this reason, I was perplexed when he was locked down for 3 more seasons on a team that was looking to go into cap-clearing rebuild mode after trading Chris Paul. How his deal went from receiving the “a bit too much for a little too long” evaluation to seeming like possibly the best value contract on the team is pretty amazing. Let’s take a look the adjustments that Jason Smith has made to his game in order to get from point A to point B so quickly.

Shot Selection

Offensively, Jason has made two major improvements; one of the two is his shot selection. With the departure of Paul and West before the season, there were naturally a lot more shots to spread around the new cast of Hornets players. As a result, Smith was one of the guys who saw a big spike in shooting volume over his 2010-11 season, more than doubling his field goal attempts per game from 4.0 to 8.9. The source of his improvement, however, isn’t simply the amount of shots that he has taken; it’s the proximity to the hoop from which he is taking them.

Courtesy of HoopData.com, we are able to see that last season, Smith attempted a whopping 68% of his shots from 16-23 feet out, compared to just 25% from 0-9 feet. This season, Jason has lowered the percentage of his attempts from 16-23 feet to 52%, compared to 35% from 9 feet and in. Not only is he taking more shots from close range, he is also being smarter in regards to the ones that he attempts. Last year, he made 50% of his looks from 0-9 feet; that number is all the way up to 68% this season.

This observation is not meant to be a knock on Smith’s jumper; he has one of the sweeter mid-range strokes of all NBA big men, as evidenced by his 47% conversion rate from that distance (well above the power forward league average of 40% this season). However, his new determination to get easy looks inside, frequently in the form of put-back dunks, has propelled him to becoming a much more efficient scorer.

Turnover Rate

Smith’s offense has also benefitted immensely from addition by subtraction. In his first three NBA seasons, Jason has posted turnover rates of 12.15%, 15.39%, and 13.56%. While these numbers aren’t terrible, the league average for power forwards last season was 12.72%, so they were a bit below average collectively. So far this season, Jason has lowered his turnover rate an amazing 27% from last year, all the way down to 9.84%. Still not impressed? Of all power forwards with a usage rate of at least 20% (also with at least 10 minutes played per game to weed out small sample sizes), here is the list of players with a lower turnover rate than Smith this season: Ryan Anderson, Antawn Jamison, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Zach Randolph. That’s it. Not bad company, right?

If a player A) has the ability to score efficiently while B) can refrain from turning the ball over and C) also happens to be seven feet tall, it doesn’t matter who he plays for… he’s going to earn himself a significant role, regardless of what he brings to the table defensively. Fortunately for Smith, he has improved on that side of the ball as well, and thus has become even more of an asset.

Defense

Defensively, Jason won’t get the same kind of glowing review that he received for his improved offense; that being said, he has come a long way from where he once was. It’s considerably more difficult to evaluate a player’s defense from just statistics, as it is tough to account for skills such as help defense (where it certainly seems like Smith has improved through the eyeball test), but there are some numbers that can be utilized to an extent.

One such stat that is far from perfect but still somewhat useful is opponent’s PER. Thanks to 82games.com, we can examine Jason’s production at each position that he has played, as well as the production of whoever was playing that same position for the opposing team at the time. Last year, Smith’s opponents’ PER (at his natural position of power forward) was 15.2, slightly above the NBA average. This season, it’s down all the way to 11.8. Whether or not his individual defense improved to such a degree is subject to interpretation, but regardless, it’s clear that he is doing a better job defensively this season than he did last year.

One possible reason for this improvement can be found by simply looking at his foul rate. Last season, NBA power forwards averaged 3.68 fouls per 36 minutes. Smith, on the other hand, exceeded that rate by nearly 30%, fouling 4.78 times per 36 minutes. This year, however, Jason has become much more disciplined, fouling just 3.9 times per 36 minutes (18.4% less than last season), a much more reasonable total. With Coach Monty Williams continuing to mentor him, Smith should have even more room to improve in this area if he can keep learning how to best utilize his height on defense.

Summary

Improved shot selection, decreased turnover rate, and better defensive discipline. In a nutshell, those are the three keys that have fueled Jason Smith’s outstanding 5.5 point PER jump, from under 11 to over 16. Opponents can no longer simply take away his mid-range jumper and render him useless on offense; he can now go to work inside as well without turning the ball over. Defensively, he’s doing a better job on his own matchup and swatting more shots away through stronger help defense than he ever has before.

The best news? Jason hasn’t even reached the peak of his potential. If he can make even a modest upgrade in both his rebounding and his ability to get to the free throw line (both certainly possible given his height advantage), we could see an even better year from him next season. Smith’s improvements from last season to this one were all achieved through nothing but lots of practice and hard work, and that is something we all can appreciate and respect.

17 comments
504ever
504ever

In addition to being so much fun to watch play, Jason is a high quality bench player and a solid starter who will hopefully be with the Hornets for years beyond this contract. Remember Jason's huge PER (and other statistical) improvement that Mason has explained so well was as a starter this year verses as a bench player last year. So his PER (and other statistical) improvement is even better considering he played so much more against 1st team players this year. Jason started 6 games out of 77 played last year (8%) and 25 of 36 (69.4%) so far this year and still showed monstrous improvement. How many NBA players do that in a year? I bet it is very few. In Dell I trust!

ADubs
ADubs

Does Jason Smith's improvement in any way change our draft strategy (if we don't get the #1 pick and obviously take the Brow)? I think so, to the point where we may even be able to trade one or both picks for some high quality veterans, or (more likely) target different types of players in the draft to complement the existing roster (a high-quality PG, a SG who can step in as a back-up developing behind Gordon, etc...). Any way you shake it, Dell has some good pieces to work with to have a deep and talented team next year.

cloud520
cloud520

What ever happened with that T-shirt contest? He was who I submitted, haha.

Ryan Schwan
Ryan Schwan

Smith has been fantastic to the point I'd be fine with him being the team's third big man in a solid rotation. To add more to the theme of Smith's Improvement, his adjusted +/- indicates he improved dramatically this year. Averaged over two years, his numbers indicate he improved the team by 2.35 points over a game. Just this year alone they indicate a +6.35. Take that with a grain of salt, though. When reducing adjusted +/- to a single year, your sample size becomes small and the stat becomes tremendously noisy.

kempleton
kempleton

I love Jason Smith. When he was injured from his eye and out for a while, He missed the road trip during Mardi Gras. One night, I saw him while shopping. He was walking to leave the store. I had to run to catch him and actually yelled his name from behind. He kindly stopped. After greeting each other. I asked him how he's doing with the eye. He said it's slowly getting better. I told him that We love his energy on the court and can't wait to see him back with the team. He thanked and left. I had no intentions to take a picture or anything. I just wanted to talk to him and ask him about his injury. It felt like I was talking to anyone of us. He looked very humble. I am glad to have a player of his personality on our team. He now has a much larger role for us and He will be a key element on our pursuit to playoffs and more.

504ever
504ever

No, you made a mistake "correcting" me by saying the odds were actually 250% greater than my numbers. Rather than own it, you obscure it.

Ryan Schwan
Ryan Schwan

How have I never seen that before? That's awesome.

504ever
504ever

I always knew that my numbers were basically correct. You are the one who incorrectly said they were way too low, before realizing they were slightly high but basically correct.

504ever
504ever

Here is the direct quote from your first post, immediately after my odds post: "You summary has the odds far too low, and they are low enough as it is."

504ever
504ever

Yeah, in the end. But you first told me the correct odds were about 250% greater than my numbers. Later you told me they were about 10% less than my numbers. (And you said I was confused!) I believe you when you say the Minni pick jumping in front of us changes the odds slighty (which I assumed was not the case). But that 10% change doesn't change the basic point and tone of my original post. [There is about a 2% weighted chance that we get the 1st pick and a top 6 pick, which makes it highly unlikely.] I got it 90% right with a few seconds of calulations. And that's not what you said in the begining.

Sam Patching
Sam Patching

That was one of the greatest f**k up's in NBA history...

Jason Calmes
Jason Calmes

No. You are mixing up the question-answer pairs, and your conclusion of 2% was and is incorrect on the low side of the correct probabilities that are too low for people's liking. If you want to discuss a particular calculation, I'll be happy to discuss it. I will not further discuss vague shadows when there is no progress towards a realization. I wrote a good deal out to explain things at your urging. I have discharged my duty as resident Ph.D.

Jason Calmes
Jason Calmes

Very good. Your numbers were lower than the low, but correct, probabilities. I'm glad you see it now.

Jason Calmes
Jason Calmes

You were and are confused. Two different questions, one set of answers for each: "Draft Math of Two Picks in the Top 6" and "Sure like to see your math for getting two top 6 picks, with one being the 1st pick." One was two top 6 picks. One was one top 1 pick, one pick 2-6. And your conclusion is still wrong "There is about a 2% weighted chance that we get the 1st pick and a top 6 pick, which makes it highly unlikely.". 90% right when you claim to be 100% is wrong, and it isn't 90% right. I was also telling you why you were wrong so you could fix it, as you asked, implying I was discourteous for not showing you the way. I held up my end. Thanks for reading and trying to understand.

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