Craig Smith may not be the key piece moving forward, but he undoubtedly has value for this Clipper team. 2010-2011 was a disappointing season for The Rhino, though, as he underachieved for arguably the first time in his career due to continual back problems. Smith was limited to only 48 games, the first time in his five-year career that he missed more than eight games. And with Blake Griffin’s impressive emergence and Ike Diogu’s surprising play, Smith found himself out of the rotation at times, averaging career lows in minutes (12.2), points (5.4), rebounds (2.4) and steals (0.3).
As an unrestricted free agent this summer, Smith will be faced with an interesting predicament. If Smith wants to return to the Clippers, which it appears is a possibility, he will once again be in competition with Diogu, this time for a potential spot on the team. Both players are free agents, but it seems the Clippers would be wise only keeping one player to back up the reigning Rookie of the Year.
At this point it is too early to tell, but Smith probably has a slightly better chance of returning than Diogu. Despite a sub-par season, Smith has a more consistent and impressive track record, and is definitely the more skilled player. With a 6’7, 265 lb. frame, Smith is as tall as the average small forward and as wide as the average linebacker. He is undersized and overweight, two disadvantages that he seemingly uses to his advantage.
Smith uses his girth to combine with a variety of post moves to outsmart his much longer opponents. With his weight, Smith is actually just as big if not bigger than most other power forwards, allowing him to back them down and push them around in the paint. For his career, Smith’s lowest PER is 15.50, which he achieved this past season, proving he has been an above average offensive player his entire career. In fact, according to Hoopdata.com, he had arguably his best shooting season to date, posting career highs at the rim (67.4%), 3-to-9 foot range (58.3%) and 10-15 foot range (50%). Defensively, though, is where his problems lie.
All of the factors that Smith uses to his advantage on offense work against him defensively. Most big men are either too tall for the short-armed big man, or too quick and agile for the bulky power forward. Either way, most players are effective against Smith because of his lack of stamina, a problem he has dealt with throughout his career. His defensive liabilities manifest as him being foul prone, limiting his potential playing time. According to Basketball-Reference.com, The Rhino averages 5.2 fouls per 36 minutes.
Players with similar body builds, such as DeJuan Blair or Glen “Big Baby” Davis, have had more impact for their respective teams because of their willingness to lose weight, get in better shape and commit to the defensive end. Without this type of transformation, Smith won’t be likely to play any more than 12-18 minutes as an 8th or 9th man. Smith has the potential to do more, as his averages of 17.6 points and 8.0 rebounds per 40 minutes are better than the average power forward. His defensive weaknesses are most likely all that’s holding him back.
Depending on the Clippers’ goals this off-season, along with who they draft and the new terms of the CBA, Smith may be in the team’s future. If the Clippers can find a cheaper or better option to back-up Griffin, though, Smith is easily expendable. When healthy, Smith can provide the much-needed bench scoring, rebounding and efficiency that the Clippers lacked this season. According to Hoopsstats.com, the Clippers were 22nd in bench scoring (27.1 points per game), 19th in rebounding (13.1 per game), 23rd in field goal percentage (42.8 percent) and 25th in efficiency (29.6), giving them the fourth worst differential among all benches in the league. Not surprisingly, according to NBA.com’s StatsCube, the Clippers were one of six teams that lacked even one bench player with a positive +/- rating this season.
There is no doubt that Smith can have a positive impact on the Clippers’ horrid bench woes. For his career, Smith has averaged 8 points on 55.6 percent shooting to go along with 4 rebounds. Those numbers aren’t jaw dropping, but they are certainly much better than his performance this season and can be labeled as improvements over Diogu (5.8 points and 3.2 rebounds) and Brian Cook (4.8 points, 2.4 rebounds and 42.4 percent shooting). Additionally, his True Shooting % of .587 is a lot better than the average player, thus giving the Clippers another motive to try and retain the underrated big man. If he’s put alongside DeAndre Jordan or Chris Kaman, his defensive deficiencies are somewhat alleviated. Despite not having a prominent role on the team, the Clippers could use Smith as more than capable back up big man for the future.
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