Clippers are far better off since Josh Smith rejoined Rockets

Feb 4, 2016; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Houston Rockets center Josh Smith (5) reacts on the court during the game against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 4, 2016; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Houston Rockets center Josh Smith (5) reacts on the court during the game against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports /

What a surprise… the Los Angeles Clippers’ bench has been far better off since Josh Smith rejoined the Houston Rockets.

It goes without saying that Josh Smith never worked out for the Los Angeles Clippers and his departure was hardly a shock, even if rejoining the Houston Rockets was a perfect yet bizarre swan song at the end of his short career in Los Angeles. Doc Rivers signed him in typical Doc Rivers fashion; as a player who helped defeat his team in the playoffs. That factor alone made him the perfect player to pursue in Doc’s eyes.

Theoretically, the addition of Smith made sense. Doc was quick to follow the current small-ball trend that has been so well established by the increasingly dominant Golden State Warriors, and Smith arrived as a versatile forward with the ability to stretch to center if need be.

Ideally, this gave the Clippers the potential to run a lineup where all five players could handle the ball and shoot.

Although, as is always the case, Smith’s ugly offensive tendencies outweighed his strengths. He could operate well as a passer, he provided good energy when he wanted to, and he contributed some sound defense at times, with highly respectable averages of 9.8 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per 36 minutes with the Clippers. Yet, that’s pretty much where the inconsistent benefits of Smith ended.

His over eagerness to shoot long twos and threes (32.2 percent of all his shots in L.A. came from beyond the arc) hurt the Clippers’ offense consistently, as he maintained dreadful efficiency with a field goal percentage of just 38.3. He often took shots too early in the shot clock to prevent more effective possessions, and when he did take timely shots they were often the wrong ones.

As nbaayy has now kindly pointed out, the numbers of the Clippers’ second unit are far better since Smith returned to Houston. Meanwhile, the Rockets’ stats have plummeted. Oh, what a surprise.

Is it a total coincidence? The “Josh Smith Effect” seems like the more accurate explanation, besides the general woes that have surrounded the Rockets all season.

Of course, the rest of the Clippers’ bench has stepped up as of late. Jamal Crawford has averaged 19.1 points on 43.1 percent shooting over the last 11 games and others such as Pablo PrigioniWesley Johnson and Cole Aldrich are doing their part, too. However, there’s no doubt that parting with Smith’s inefficiencies has helped the bench’s offense.

Another reason why the numbers without Smith are so much better is because he was largely used in the Clippers’ dismal small-ball lineup where he was featured at the five, before Aldrich was rightfully rewarded with an increased role as a genuine center. The end of this failed experiment has not only helped on offense but on defense as well, which has done wonders for the Clippers’ standing among the NBA elite this season.

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In fact, while ranking 5th in offensive efficiency is no surprise, the Clips’ ranking of 7th in defensive efficiency is far more impressive. When considering the fact that they only ranked 15th in this category last season, it’s even more impressive.

Prigioni is persistent when it comes to picking off sneaky steals (see the Clippers’ frantic late comeback against the Golden State Warriors when he stripped an inbounds pass before hitting a three), Johnson is stepping up, J.J. Redick is underrated as always, Chris Paul is playing at an exceptional level, DeAndre Jordan is anchoring the paint, and Luc Mbah a Moute has made a real defensive impact, too.

From long-term players to offseason acquisitions, the Clippers have taken a huge step forward when it comes to defense.

Of course, Smith was by no means solely to blame for the struggles the bench has had at times this season. But his poor shot selection and lacking chemistry being back in Houston is certainly good for all those still left in L.A.

Next: DeAndre Jordan is starting to evolve on offense

Now, it’s up to Jeff Green to be a better version of Smith, to operate as a small-ball four until Blake Griffin‘s return and use his athleticism and talent to hopefully find some kind of consistency. It’s always been his downfall, but hopefully he’s enough to be the energizing complimentary piece the Clippers need him to be.