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

Published: April 17, 2012

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, 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.


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, 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.


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.


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