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Smith A Sensational Find

Nobody thought the Hornets would be the NBA’s last undefeated team. Nobody knew the team would play amazing team defense. There are many things in this young NBA season that nobody knew about this team. For example, nobody knew that Jason Smith would be a major contributor to New Orleans’ 7-0 start. John Reid of the Times Picayune writes:

…given the miniscule number of athletic 7-foot, 240-pound players who have good shooting range and a willingness to scrap on the glass. There also isn’t much doubt that they knew about as much as we did prior to September – namely, that Smith was a guy traded to the Hornets along with guard Willie Green, who was the “name” half of the acquisition.True, the Hornets desperately needed backup post help. It has been an annual quest for the franchise, like it is for most teams, given that talented big men aren’t just hanging out on street corners.

But the concentration on Hornets reserves was so centered on the need to find a backup point guard to spell Paul after Darren Collison was traded, it was easy to minimize the almost equal desperation New Orleans had to find a competent power forward to give a breather to David West.

Not a standout backup, mind you. Just someone who, when West got in foul trouble or needed a break, could bring needed size, shotmaking and defense to the position, who wouldn’t be such a drop-off that Coach Monty Williams would be loathe to trust him.

But there wasn’t much reason for New Orleans to believe that guy would be Smith.

When he was acquired from Philadelphia in September, along with Green in exchange for Darius Songaila and Craig Brackins, the Hornets knew what they were getting in Green, figured he’d be the backup to Paul that the team needed.

Smith, though, looked like a throw-in. New Orleans is looking pretty smart for having Smith thrown in.

“A new start, a new city, a new team,” Smith said. “It would be tough, but I know I was up to the challenge of learning a new system, learning a new coach and what he likes and dislikes.”

There’s been no bigger surprise off the bench than Smith’s 8.3 points and 4.7 rebounds per game in 20.4 minutes. There have been no more weighty contributions by reserves than the minimum 21 minutes he has played in five of seven games for the unbeaten Hornets, the eight points and four rebounds he chipped in on opening night when West was in early foul trouble, the 14 points and nine boards he put up against Houston or the 12 and six he laid on Miami.

That’s solid work from a player whose high mark in two seasons with the Sixers was 4.5 points and three rebounds per game, who missed his second NBA season with a torn left ACL and, as the No. 20 overall pick in 2007, probably was running out of chances to show he belonged.

“Everybody questioned his toughness,” Williams said. “You don’t play that hard and get labeled soft. I didn’t know he was as tough as he is. I didn’t know he was relentless on the boards the way he’s been. I knew he could shoot the ball, but I didn’t know that he would be able to rebound the ball the way that he has. And even when he doesn’t get it, it puts pressure on the defense when he goes over someone’s back and gets a tap out.

“It was a bonus for us because we didn’t have a backup big. That was a major concern – backup point guard, backup big. We didn’t know how he was going to play.

“Make a trade like that right before the season starts, you just have to wait and see what’s going to happen. For him to come in and play the way he has played, as early as it is, it’s been a big-time bright spot for us.”

It’s been as glaring as any of the pleasantries that have surrounded the Hornets so far.

“For me, I just have to go out there and play hard, whether it be in practice or in a game,” Smith said.

“The position (behind West) was open and you just really had to fight for it. Going into practice, I knew that.”

No one knew he’d be so good at it, though.

There isn’t a monumental drop off when Smith subs for West. The offense doesn’t have to change. He’s just as capable of sticking an 18-foot jumper, just as able to earn another possession with an offensive rebound and very much willing defensively to challenge at the rim. (to read all of Reid’s article click here)

Wow. To simply claim there isn’t a monumental drop off when anybody subs for two-time all start David West is a testament to that “anybody.” In this case it’s Jason Smith, one of several surprises for the unbeaten Hornets.

Smith says, “I hope there’s not too much drop-off. But as I said, you’ve got to keep continuing to work hard in practice and learn from David any way I can, because he’s obviously All-Star caliber.”

Like the rest of the Hornets, despite a great start, Smith knows it’s a work in progress. The right kind of attitude for the right kind of team.

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