Josh Smith, Believe It or Not, Can Help the Houston Rockets

The Clippers traded Smith back to Houston, a move that can be criticized easily. But the numbers actually favor the swap.

Josh Smith is a pretty easy target for jokes in the NBA circle.

He's not exactly an efficient player, and he was waived by the Detroit Pistons last season, which, you know, isn't great.

He was signed by the Houston Rockets and played his first game with Houston on December 26, 2014. Despite a 12th-ranked Offensive Rating of 107 for the team last year, Smith owned a personal mark of just 97 with the Rockets.

So it wasn't much of a surprise that he didn't stick around in Houston and ended up signing with the Los Angeles Clippers this offseason. It also isn't a surprise that he owns an Offensive Rating of just 89, this in spite of the Clippers' fifth-ranked mark of 108.1 as a team.

One last unsurprising bit: the Clippers wanted to part ways with Smith.

Ready for a surprise? The Clips just traded him back to the Rockets along with some cash in exchange for Maarty Leunen.

What was Houston thinking?

Morey Madness?

Houston general manager Daryl Morey generally is lauded for his personnel decisions, so this potentially head-scratching move deserves to be broken down.

Now, before breaking down the numbers, it appears that there may be one intangible reason Smith is back with the team.

Well, if that's true, that's fine, but I'm not really here to break down Josh Smith's veteran leadership.

Even still, the deal could be what the Rockets, who are 17th in our power rankings and owned an 80.1 percent chance to make the playoffs before the move, need to make a legitimate surge.

Stick with me.

Smith's Efficiency

Last season, Smith's struggles showed overall, but that's not to say that he was less efficient than he usually is.

Again, his Offensive Rating while with Houston was 97, and his overall Effective Field Goal Percentage was just 45.6 percent, his ninth-lowest percentage in his 12-year career.

However, his mark with the Rockets (removing his time with the Pistons) was 49.1 percent, which tied for his fourth-best Effective Field Goal Percentage ever.

This is even after he shot just 33.0 percent from beyond the arc with Houston (32.0 percent of his field goals -- 191 in total -- were three-pointers while with Houston, the highest percentage ever before his 32.2 percent mark with the Clippers this year).

His best three-point percentage ever was 33.1 percent on 154 attempts back in 2010-11 with the Atlanta Hawks. While he wasn't great from a league-average standpoint, he had arguably his best ever three-point performance with Houston last season.

There isn't much else to delve into in terms of Smith's offense -- he did hit on 43.4 percent of his corner threes last year -- but maybe there's some truth to Smith's ability to make his teammates better. At least these particular Rockets teammates.

On/Off Splits

Tracking Smith's impact on Houston -- from his first game with the team through the playoffs -- is pretty surprising.

Per NBAWowy, Smith himself owned a Points per Possession mark of just 0.94 (meaning his Offensive Rating was 94 if we include the playoffs). That doesn't mean, however, that the team as a whole struggled while Smith was on the floor.

In fact, 12 players played at least 200 possessions with and without Smith on the court. Here are their Offensive Ratings (Points per Possession multiplied by 100) with and without him last season.

Offensive RatingSmith OnSmith OffDifference
Clint Capela13010921
Corey Brewer1041040
Donatas Motiejunas1121093
Dwight Howard1091009
James Harden1181126
Jason Terry1161151
Joey Dorsey97934
Kostas Papanikolaou925636
Pablo Prigioni1047430
Patrick Beverley1109119
Terrence Jones1121075
Trevor Ariza12110615

It'd be kind of an eyesore to throw in possessions played in and out of the split in the table, so keep in mind that a guy like Clint Capela played just 215 possessions with Smith and 214 without him, but every player who saw some reasonably extended time with Smith fared better than they did without him.


The Rockets played faster with Smith (99 possessions per 48 minutes with him on and 96.6 without him) and managed an Offensive Rating of 109.6 with him -- compared to 107.1 without him.

Their Effective Field Goal Percentage ticked up from 50.5 percent to 52.6 percent, and 61.8 percent of their made field goals came from assists with Smith on the floor compared to 59.6 percent without him.

Defensively, though, Smith's impact really showed.

Houston allowed 109.0 points per 100 possessions in 1,666 minutes (3,353 possessions) with Smith off the floor last season after he joined the team. With him on, that mark was 104.1 (1,799 minutes and 3,713 possessions).

Teams owned an Effective Field Goal Percentage of 48.4 percent against lineups with Smith but 51.5 percent when he was on the bench.

For what it's worth, Dwight Howard played 1,132 possession with Smith and 1,146 without him, and Capela played just one more possession with him.

Of note, Corey Brewer played 2,328 possessions alongside Smith compared to 1,460 without him. That sounds like it would have played a part in suppressing the on-court Defensive Rating split.

Last year, though, Brewer's combined Defensive Real Plus-Minus of -1.24 with Houston and Minnesota ranked 46th among shooting guards. Brewer's current Defensive Real Plus-Minus this season of -0.50 ranks 31st among shooting guards.

But on the flipside, Patrick Beverley played 1,497 possessions with Smith off the floor and just 936 with him. Given that Beverley is known for his defense, this seems a little off. However, last year, Beverley's Defensive Real Plus-Minus of -0.30 ranked 27th among points guards. This year, his 0.67 ranks fifth.

Overall, three of the team's four best lineups last season in terms of Net Rating featured Smith and Brewer, per Basketball-Reference. Smith was also featured in three of their four worst lineups, though, and all of them included Beverley (who was actually in the team's six worst five-man lineups based on Net Rating).

A Verdict

Smith isn't going to do many favors from an individual standpoint for the offense, which ranks seventh in Offensive Rating (106.6). But as we saw, last year, his teammates all performed better on a per-possession basis with him on the floor.

Where he'll likely help most is on the defensive end (Houston ranks 24th in Defensive Rating at 107.8), and he might not kill the offense quite like we all would think.

At the very least, his apparent leadership and the respect he commands might make James Harden try a little harder. 

That alone could be worth it for Houston.