Despite fitting the classic, and well worn, definition of "under-sized Rockets power forward," Greg Smith brings some extra tools to the table that will make him a key rotational player for the Rockets, especially during the playoffs.
Greg is a California native and attended Fresno State to play college ball for two years. In his final season, he averaged 30 minutes, 11.6 points, 8.1 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.1 steals, and 1.1 blocks per game. Notably, he sported a 22.4% defensive rebounding rate, which was a staggering increase from his 14.8% rate from the previous year.
He decided to enter himself into the 2011 draft hoping to be selected by any team, in any round. He had a total of 22 separate team work-outs and thought that he had a decent shot at landing a rookie contract. He was left disappointed as he went undrafted.
During the lockout he got an offer to play ball in Mexico and accepted in an attempt to stay closer to his family instead of playing overseas in Europe. After his stint down south, Smith returned to the U.S. and showed up for training camps where he caught Morey's eye.
With very few, if any, rotation minutes to hand out at his position, he was likely to be cut but the Rockets approached him about a signing with their D-League affiliate to stay in the U.S. and develop his game. He impressed with the Vipers squad, posting better and, more importantly, more efficient numbers than his college days. He averaged 12.3 points (53.1%), 9.3 rebounds (4 offensive), 2.3 assists, and 1.3 steals per game in 3 contests where he averaged 23.3 minutes each game.
This had other teams looking his way and the Rockets quickly snatched him up on a multi-year, partially guaranteed deal though the 2014-15 season. His salary this year is $762,195.
Absolute Physical Specimen
Although you'll see 6'10" some places and 6'9" most, his pre-draft height with no shoes was 6 feet, 8.5 inches. He weighs in at 250 pounds.
Though that description likely fits about every 80% of the failed PF projects in NBA draft history, Smith has a few other notable physical attributes that significantly up his value.
First is his length. His wingspan of 7'3" is equivalent to Tyson Chandler and one inch longer than our own Omer Asik. His wingspan and his standing reach of 8'11.5" allow him to bother taller power forwards and centers more than his standing height would have you guess.
Second is his athleticism. He recorded with a 35.5" vertical for the draft and would venture to guess he can elevate even higher when he gets a head of steam towards the rim. He has created his fair share of posters in his short career in the NBA. Whether it is in high school, in practices, against Orlando, against Detroit, against the 76ers, against Utah, against the Timberwolves, and even against the Spurs (best poster by far, sorry Tiago), he finds a way to get above the rim and throw it down with a lot of power. He also possesses a decent amount of lateral quickness for someone of his build, allowing him to play against quicker big men as well.
Third is his strength. Like many on this Rockets team, Greg Smith is incredibly young (22 years old). He is in the second year of his NBA career and already possesses an NBA ready body. Pre-draft, he bench pressed 185lbs seventeen times, and while squatting statistics were not available, my guess is that he would have high marks there as well. While Rocket's assistant coach Kelvin Sampson was taking on head coaching duties for the mourning Kevin McHale, he described Smith as "country ox strong," in a post-game interview, noting his massive physique and solid core strength while defending Dwight Howard in the post. 6.4% body fat will do that to a big fella, I suppose.
Fourth are his hands. They are historically monstrous. According to the DraftExpress combine database, Greg Smith's hand measurement rank #1 overall in both hand length and hand width since they began taking those measurements (Royce White being #2 on that list). His hand length measured 11.25 inches. His hand width? 12 inches. That is not a typo. ONE FOOT! Hold up a ruler and spin it in a circle and you are essentially looking at Greg Smith's hand.
He is the only man I know who can, quite literally, single-handedly star in a Subway commercial (more on the basketball related opportunities it creates below).
What Has He Done for Us?
His overall averages this year are nothing to shout about: 15.5 minutes per game, 6 points, 4.5 rebounds, and .5 blocks. From a distance, you may not even give him a second look with those numbers.
Regardless of this, he is the best big man on the team in terms of catching the ball and scoring down low (Sampson notes this as well in the same post-game interview above). While he is limited in his ability to create his own shot outside of a one move, drop-step hook shot, he is the perfect Yin to Harden's pocket passing Yang. Those hands of his are not just enormous, they are also surprisingly soft. This allows him to catch errant passes relatively easily and finish on pick and rolls. The other options are not nearly as appealing on offense. Omer Asik is known for his stone-hands and is a huge turnover liability. Thomas Robinson is also a turnover machine. Since the trade deadline, he leads the entire team in turnovers per 100 plays with 16.9 (Asik is second with 15.7, followed by the more recent PF option Terrence Jones at 14.5). Donatas Motiejunas is the only one comparable to Smith in this regard, but he takes 40.4% of his shots from 3-point range and is not nearly as good of a roll man on picks nor is he strong enough to finish through contact.
To put his finishing ability in perspective, of players who have over 150 field goal attempts this season, Greg Smith is 3rd in the NBA in field goal percentage (62.6%) behind only DeAndre Jordan (64.1%) and Tyson Chandler (63.8%). 84.8% of all of his shots come from inside the restricted area and he hits those at a 70% clip (106 of 151 shots). Only 3.4% of all of his shots occur outside the paint. He is a man who knows exactly what his game is, and plays it well. In fact, he estimates that 85% of the time, he'll dunk on you.
He has also had some notable games throughout the season. Including this one, where he showed up Dwight Howard, scored his career high, and sank clutch shots to close out a win against the Lakers. Sampson's post-game interview referenced earlier where he fawns over Greg Smith can be found here (skip to 1:00 and 4:45 for relevant commentary). There is a wonderful part of the interview where Sampson chronicles his development since they signed him as well.
He does have some skeletons in his closet though. My guess is that they got there after Greg fouled them to death and tried to hide the bodies. One of the significant limitations on his usage is how much he fouls other players. Despite only averaging 15.5 minutes over the season, he still manages to amass 2.4 fouls per game. Those minutes will be much higher once he learns how to manipulate the combination of strength and athleticism he has to avoid clobbering opposing players too much. He is also subject to many of the same young player brain-farts that you would expect from a 22 year old, including a pretty hilarious incident where he got a 3-second call because he parked in the lane to tie his shoe.
Bottom line: When not fouling himself to the bench, Greg has been a solid roll man who has shown that he can catch and finish at the rim with stunning regularity who has shown flashes of top flight, clutch play against the league's best at the position.
But What Has He Done For Us, Lately?
Greg Smith has been on somewhat of a tear heading towards the post-season.
Since March 13th, he has not only gotten his first start as a Rocket, but has amassed an 8 game starting streak at power forward next to Asik. Potential opponents in the play-offs could see big #4 right out of the gate.
In the 16 games since the above date, he has logged 20+ minutes in 12 of 16 games. During those 20+ minute games he had an impressive 18 point, 19 rebound outing against the Pacers and averaged 9.3 points and 8 boards over that time.
Since this minutes spike around mid-March, he leads the team in both points per possession (1.18) and points per shot (1.23) for players with a minimum of 500 possessions during that stretch.
He beats out his teammates comfortably as Harden (ppp: 1.09, pps: 1.16), Lin (ppp: 1.04, pps: 1.14), Parsons (ppp: 1.11, pps: 1.07), and Asik (ppp: 1.03, pps: 1.16) fall significantly short of Smith's efficiency shooting the basketball.
Also during this stretch, he leads the team in field goal percentage (59.2%). A full 4.7% higher than second place (Asik).
Other than Carlos Delfino, who has been out during significant portions of this stretch, Greg Smith sports the lowest turnover rate of any Rocket. This is a sight for sore eyes on a team that sports several of the leaders in the "assists to the other team" category.
He is a very serviceable back-up center and pretty decent starting forward. His stat lines will wow you only sparingly, but his physical play, monster dunks, and his Daryl-Morey-pleasing shot selection/percentage will keep you coming back for more.
While very seldom a total game changer (rightly so at this point in his career), he has the potential to develop into a fairly scary match-up for a lot of power forwards in this 'stretch 4' era of the NBA we inhabit.
Look for his numbers to continue trending up in the play-offs as he is starting to gain the upper-hand in the "who the hell are the Rockets going to start at PF" lottery.