Jason Smith sure knows how to pick his spots with the Washington Wizards. The team knows that when his number is called upon, he’s going to make an impact and that’s a big reason why he’s having such a solid first year with the Wizards.
Tuesday night against the Charlotte Hornets proved to be no different.
Smith played just four total minutes in the team’s final two road games against the Utah Jazz and Golden State Warriors, but bounced back against the Hornets with a season-high 17 points. He knocked down a career-high five three-pointers in the game and earned high praise from his teammates afterward.
“Jason is probably one of the best triple threats that I can say that I have played with,” John Wall said. “A guy that didn’t get too many minutes on a road trip and then came back and had a big game for us; he’s just always ready. He prepares himself every game like he’s going to get minutes. If he doesn’t, he’s one of the main guys cheering for us and we couldn’t ask for more from a guy like that.”
Markieff Morris joked that he thought Smith was shooting like Ryan Anderson.
“I told him to take his mask off because he is really Ryan Anderson,” Morris said. “[He] just gives another dimension to our team, especially with a guy coming off of the bench shooting threes like that. He’s big for us.”
When Smith can give the Wizards solid production off of the bench, it usually translates to success for the team. The Wizards are now 9-4 this season when Smith scores at least 10 points and are 4-1 when he scores at least 15 points.
Smith is averaging 5.8 points and 3.5 rebounds in 14.3 minutes per game this season, while shooting 50 percent from three-point range. While his numbers don’t jump off of the page, his per-48 minutes paint a better picture of what he brings to the floor. He’s averaging 19.3 points, 11.6 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per-48 minutes this season.
“This is a dream job,” Smith said. “This is definitely a dream job for me. I just come out and work hard every day. Coach knows what he’s going to get out of me every day. I hope he knows that and I know all I can do is continue to work hard.
“I just space out and I’m just sitting there licking my chops. It’s a credit to [my teammates]. They’ve been doing a great job of attacking the rim and staying aggressive on offense. It’s been a really good opportunity for me, but again, it’s a credit to them.”
In his ninth year in the NBA, Smith is easily having his best season as a shooter. Smith’s 50 percent rate from three-point range (35-of-70) is a career-high and his 35 makes are more than double that of any other season. His previous best was 15, set with the New York Knicks two years ago.
Smith has established himself as one of the best mid-range shooters in the NBA over the past few seasons as well. Last season with the Orlando Magic, Smith shot 48.3 percent (181-of-375) from mid-range and his 181 makes ranked 14th among all players in the league. He’s converting on 52.2 percent of those same shots this season, but at a smaller rate (83-of-159).
We’re beginning to see how much of a commodity it is for teams to have big men who can help stretch the floor. Smith worked to improve his three-point shot, which is paying off in a big way this season. He started to gain more confidence in his shot after watching film with coaches.
“[I was] realizing that the mid-range space out wasn’t quite good enough for defenses,” Smith said. “It was easy for defenses to guard. It was kind of baby steps spacing out to the corner three and then spacing out a little on the top of the key. Practicing a ton in practice, practicing in the off season and then just getting comfortable with the teammates passing it. Really watching film – a lot, a lot of film.”
For a bench unit that ranks 29th in the league in scoring, Smith’s contributions are a great boost for the Wizards. Of course, the Wizards have some great scorers on the team in Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr., but they’ll still need key performances off of the bench in certain situations.
Smith has always been a player that is going to bring a lot of effort and energy off of the bench. As Wall said, if Smith isn’t playing, he’s the first one to cheer on his teammates and congratulate them on big plays.
“One thing that you know that you’re going to get from Jason is a great effort,” head coach Scott Brooks said. “You’re going to get a great team spirit and now he’s knocking down threes all over the line. Give him credit and give our staff credit [for] expanding his game and it helps.”
The Wizards are currently fourth in the Eastern Conference at 47-31. The team’s 47 wins are the most victories in a season since the 1978-79 campaign when they finished 54-28. They currently have an identical record as the Toronto Raptors and could finish the season as the third seed.
Washington has four games left in the regular season, with none of their remaining games against teams above .500. The team wants to head into the playoffs playing great basketball and an easy remaining schedule, along with some contributions off the bench from Smith, should help them achieve that goal.
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