Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
If you told me a month ago that the power forward prospect who would occasionally be closing games for the Rockets this season was Greg Smith, I would have called you an idiot. Yet here we are.
Jeremy Lin stole the show Monday night against the Spurs but there was another Houston youngster who had an exceptional game and who has been catching my eye time and time again this season. This morning I'd like to reflect on the story of Greg Smith: the undrafted forward/undersized center whose hustle on both ends of the floor has earned him regular rotation minutes on the Houston Rockets (that description might sound familiar to a few of you). Smith played two years of college ball at Fresno State where he averaged 11.7 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks during his sophomore year. Smith started his professional career playing for a Mexican club called the Soles de Mexicali but was soon acquired by the Rio Grande Vipers in late 2011. Last season in the D-League Smith scored 16.6 points at 66.8% shooting from the field and pulled down nearly 8 rebounds per game. Smith's performance on the Vipers translated into a contract with the Houston Rockets.
I knew I was going to be a fan of Greg Smith immediately following his debut as a Houston Rocket where he kicked off his NBA career with three huge blocks. In his eight games last season as a Rocket, Smith averaged a mere 1.8 points per game. He bounced back and forth between the NBA and the D-League as injuries permitted and it seemed like he was going to be lost on the long list of Rocket's development fodder amongst names like Jeff Adrien and Joey Dorsey. With Marcus Camby, Samuel Dalembert and a playoff push to worry about, Smith's future on the Rockets was mostly overlooked.
And then Daryl Morey gutted the roster, drafted two power forwards, brought in Lin, Asik, Motiejunas, and traded for Harden. There was a stockpile of young bigs on the Rockets' roster when training camp rolled around and Greg Smith was the least rousing of them all. Fast forward to today. Twenty games into the season and Greg Smith has emerged as one of the most capable prospects on the team.
Smith is 6 feet 10 inches tall, weighs 250 pounds, and is only 21 years old. In just 15 minutes per game this season, Smith is averaging 6.2 points, 3.7 rebounds and and half a block. His early December performances against the Jazz (13 points in 16 minutes) and Lakers (21 points in 24 minutes) have been crucial in securing both of those wins. Smith has a low center of gravity, much like Chuck Hayes, that allows him to plant as a post defender and finish in traffic. Smith is still figuring out how to best contribute on offense, but he sticks to what he does well and he works his ass off on the boards. Defensively, Smith has got plenty of room to grow but he excels at adjusting just like he did Monday night when matched up with Tim Duncan in the post. Smith is a mobile big man who can block shots, rebound, and finish at the rim. He's got a lot going for himself.
Greg Smith's per 36 numbers this season look pretty good at 17.5 points per game, 10.6 rebounds per game, and 1.7 blocks per game but we're working off of a fairly small sample size. Smith could become a lot of things for the Rockets with time. Jeremy Lin and James Harden's roll man of choice this season is Omer Asik and while there have been some flashes of cohesion, I'd rather see a true offensive banger rolling out of the screen towards the basket. Smith can be that guy.
The exponential trajectory of Greg Smith's career has a direct correlation with his work ethic and hard working big men have a tendency to stick in the NBA. I'm not saying that Smith should be starting now or even this season. At 21 years old he's the second youngest player on an already young team (only Terrence Jones is younger) and he's got plenty of time to develop. Back when Chuck Hayes was starting at center for the Rockets I remember speculating about just how dominant a 7 foot Chuckwaggon would be in the NBA. Smith isn't exactly seven feet tall, he's no Chuck Hayes, and he has a long way to go but if the young big man continues to progress at his current pace the Rockets could have another very valuable player on the roster.
Dream Shakers - what do you think? Could Greg Smith be a big part of this team's future?