Friday, July 4, 2008

Say hello to Josh Smith

Before diving into the players available in free agency, I was hoping to get a post up looking at the current players on the Sixers roster. After all, its hard to know who you should go after in free agency unless you have a good sense of what your needs are.

It has quickly become apparent to me, however, that following that strategy might mean I don't get around to commenting on the major free agency story (involving the Sixers). In case you've missed it, the Sixers are involved in a full-court courtship of Josh Smith, a power forward on the Atlanta Hawks.

Smith is a restricted free agent, which means that the Hawks have the right to match any offer. The Hawks have said that they'll match any offer, but no one knows if that's really the case. Regardless, it doesn't seem to have deterred the Sixers from pursuing him. (Although last year it sure seemed to deter teams from making offers to some restricted free agents.) Based on the articles linked above, it appears the Sixers plan to offer Smith a 5 year, $67 million deal.

That's a good chunk of change. But is he worth it?

Let me start off by admitting that I don't think I've really ever had the chance to watch Josh Smith play. Of course, that's not going to stop me from commenting on him....

Off the bat, he's known for his athleticism-- he's a ferocious finisher and top-tier weakside shot-blocker. He's not particularly known for his handle or shooting, although he can apparently step out to the three-point line with some success. He's definitely not known as being a back-to-the-basket scorer, so don't expect him to solve that weakness for the Sixers. Qualitatively, he seems to fit in with many of the current Sixers-- athletic players who can play disruptive defense (even if not tremendous straight-up man-to-man) and get out on the break, but aren't particularly strong in a half-court set.

That's the general description. Now, what do the numbers tell us?

Looking at the basic boxscore stats, Smith averaged 17.2 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks last season. He did, however, have a whole bunch of turnovers. Going further, there are three main "advanced" stats combining the basic box score stats in a variety of ways that get the most attention-- Wins Produced (which I've used a bunch over the past year), Adjusted +/-, and John Hollinger's Player Efficiency Rating (PER), so let's look at all three.

In terms of Wins Produced, Smith was the eleventh most productive power forward last season, producing 6.7 wins. However, that ranking seems to be a bit misleading. Smith accumulated much of his wins produced total because he played so many minutes. His WP48 was .110, not so spectacular when you consider that average WP48 is .100. For comparison purposes, Reggie Evans ranked 14th with 5.6 wins produced, but his WP48 was .143. So Wins Produced indicates that Smith was above average, but not by that much.

In terms of Adjusted +/-, Smith was the tenth best power forward last season (and 35th in the league), scoring a +5.14. For comparison purposes, Thaddeus Young was the best Sixer last season with a +12.33 (third in the league) and Andre Igoudala had a +4.95 (38th in the league). So Adjusted +/- shows Smith to be a good player, but not necessarily an elite player.

In terms of PER, Smith was the eleventh best power forward last season, scoring a 19.08 (average is 15.00). Kevin Garnett was the best power forward at 25.30, while Reggie Evans clocked in with an 11.05. The top Sixer, at any position, was Andre Igoudala with a 19.05. So by PER, Smith is again a good player, but not necessarily an elite player. However, he would be the Sixers' best player according to PER.

So what's the verdict?

The advanced stats tell us that based on current production, Smith is probably around the tenth best power forward in the NBA. That's good, and he'd definitely help the Sixers win more games, but that isn't necessarily elite. And for $67 million over 5 seasons, I think the Sixers probably need to find someone a little closer to elite. Of course, Smith is also only 22 years old and has apparently gotten better every year he's been in the league. If he keeps improving (really, if he just improves slightly), then signing him to this contract would probably be a good investment.

All in all, a very close call. Good thing that I'm not the one who needs to make these decisions. I just get to make snarky comments about the decisions that are made.

What's your verdict?


Louis said...

I like the idea of signing another young player who has had success in the NBA and can be expected to improve.

I also think the team should go after at least one good unrestricted free agent.

Sam Cohen said...

The key is whether Smith can be expected to improve. While 22 is young, he has played four seasons in the NBA already. If he's going to show further improvement, he'll probably show it in the next year or two.

Louis said...

That's the key to Smith. The problem with Smith, of course, is that we may never see him in Sixers uniform which is why I think the team should use it's cap room to go after an unrestricted free agent too.