The Houston Rockets have taken great pride in their ability to acquire talented young assets that they can move for established talent or develop into solid players over the last few seasons. Greg Smith has shown this season that he is more than capable of developing into the type of player that not only will contribute during the regular season, but will be capable of taking up a larger role on a team that is hoping to make a deep playoff run next year.
In only his second year in the NBA, Smith displayed great strides in his development by increasing his statistical contributions to a solid 6.0 points points on 62 percent shooting, 4.6 rebounds, .6 blocks, .4 assists and .3 steals in just under 16 minutes per game. He has shown to be a very efficient scorer capable of capitalizing on second-chance efforts through his strong offensive rebounding.
Smith is by no means a finished project, but the improvements he has made to his game show that he has great promise and is ready for an increased role with this young team. He is becoming increasingly more comfortable in the post and his ability to quickly catch and control the ball makes him a strong passing option for teammates driving to the net.
The Houston Rockets have centered their offense around James Harden, who is an incredible threat on offense capable of scoring in a number of diverse ways.
However, Harden is also an excellent passer who excels at pick-and-roll situations when working with a player capable of effectively drawing contact and getting to the rim.
Smith has shown great ability this season in pick-and-roll situations, utilizing his ability to catch the ball and take it to the rim to turn into a great passing option for Harden. In fact, when Smith and Harden share the floor, Harden scores 4.5 more points and assists on .7 more shots per 36 minutes than when Smith is on the bench.
As Harden and Smith continue to get more experience together, their chemistry will allow them to improve on the strong offensive rhythm they have already developed.
Although Smith is a little undersized for the traditional center role, his ability to gain strong position in the paint in order to rebound and his high efficiency around the rim places him perfectly into the increasingly popular athletic forward-center hybrid role seen around the league.
In addition, his improvement on the defensive side of the ball has allowed him to more effectively guard the larger low-post players, as well as provide help when opponents drive in the lane.
There are a number of areas that Smith could improve on during the offseason that will allow for a greater opportunity to contribute to his team's success, and it begins at the free-throw line.
Although Smith only attempted 1.7 free throws per game last season, he is likely to see an increase in attempts as his minutes increase and he develops into a stronger offensive option.
If he can increase his conversion rate from 62.3 percent to closer to 70 percent he will not only be able to increase his offensive productivity, but will also be able to avoid the pitfalls of being seen as a candidate for the hacking strategy.
In addition to working on free-throw shooting, Smith needs to continue with a strong offseason power and speed training program that will allow him to continue his development athletically. Smith demonstrated his potential to be a strong inside threat last season; however, he will need to continue to improve on his strength and speed to truly compete against the more talented frontcourt players in the league.
Finally, Smith has not completely adjusted to the speed of an NBA game, which is evident in his tendency to foul opponents in the paint. During the regular season, Smith averaged 2.5 fouls per game, and with an increase in minutes he will likely find himself in foul trouble often.
If he is to take on a bigger role in the form of increased playing time, he will need to work on his defensive positioning to reduce his tendency to foul.
He showed great potential last season as a limited-minutes player capable of scoring efficiently, being a strong rebounding presence on the glass and playing with intensity at the defensive end of the court. I fully expect to see Smith's role on the team increase next season as his development will earn him increased playing time and the confidence the organization has in his ability will continue to grow.
Greg Smith will not only be a likely key role player to the Rockets' regular season, but he can also play an important role in any run that Houston expects to have in the playoffs next year.
Smith may be far from a finished project, but it is clear that Houston has found a special type of key contributor willing to do the work required of a role player in the young forward. Hopefully fans will get to watch Smith grow this next season into the type of player Houston will need for the playoffs next season, and for many years to come.
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