A year and a half ago, Greg Smith was playing in the Mexican League just across the border from California, in Mexicali. This was his lot after declaring for the NBA early after two seasons at Fresno State right before the lockout hit. Out of bad timing can come young careers, however. After playing in Mexico for five months, Smith moved up into the NBA D-League with Rio Grande Valley, where he flourished with 12.3 points and 9.3 rebounds in 23 minutes of playing time. A short stay on the Rockets’ roster at the end of 2012 beget a tryout in October, where he again showed he was more than capable of being a post in the NBA. He’s currently averaging 14.3 points and 10.2 rebounds per 36 minutes of playing time, and shooting 65 percent.
In the 6-10, 250-pound Smith’s first full season in the NBA (with a quick trip back to Rio Grande Valley in mid-February) he’s had a 21-point game against the Lakers, seen nearly the entirety of the Houston roster turned over for trades, and watched as his college teammate, Paul George, exploded into the national scene. Dime caught up with Smith this week to talk about his season.
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Dime: You just got off a big win over Dallas, where Chandler Parsons dropped 32. Did you know he was 12-of-13 from the field?
Greg Smith: I didn’t even know that he missed the one shot he missed. He was just on fire.
Dime: Is he like that in practice?
GS: Yeah, in practice he has a style where he can be on and go for 30. He gets to he rim.
Dime: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned from playing with a talent like James Harden? Keep your eyes and hands up?
GS: Just stay focused and keep your hands ready, but I’m always prepared. James is another animal, he’s a star in the league and knows how to come into the game and knows what needs to be done. From driving, drawing (defenders) and and kicking, he can do it all.
Dime: You’re one of only a few guys who was on this team late last season who’s still here after all the trades the team has done. Is it odd to see all the turnover, or do you feel lucky?
GS: I kind of feel lucky that my hard work is put in, I hope I can stick around for a long time. It’s crazy with the trades but it’s a business world. I can’t really speak to that side but I just know they make trades.
Dime: Have you felt a “turning point” this season? Your game in December where you had 21 points against the Lakers seemed to be a game where you stepped out of being a complementary player.
GS: In the preseason I had some good games, too but that Lakers game was special because the coaches just told me to go out and there and play and battle Dwight and I did it. I found out I can hang with the big boys.
Dime: About a month ago, when you were sent to Rio Grande, your team said it was to recharge your batteries. This being your first full season in the NBA, is the rookie wall a real thing?
GS: It is a real thing. I felt it a little bit and my body was tired. It’s a long season and it drains you. It helped me out because I got in the training room and the ice bath and more. When I was down there it helped out a lot.
Dime: Your coach, Kevin McHale, worked with Thomas Robinson on post work last week in his first practice. Does he do that often with posts?
GS: Oh yeah, on the first day I got here he showed me. He’s a good coach and wants kids to go out there and work, so he knows what it takes. Later on he’s tried to show me more moves because I’m more of a defensive player.
Dime: Does he get competitive? He always played that way.
GS: He kind of does (laughs). He knows we have the moves in us and we need to pick it up.
Dime: I’m not sure how much contact you have with GM Daryl Morey, but he’s big on advanced stats, to say the least. How often do you as a player get reports on what you’re doing right or wrong with the help of stats like that?
GS: Our coaches try to get us advanced stats and let us know what we’re doing right. It helps a lot knowing where we’re doing in those ways.
Dime: OK, but anything in particular you use?
GS: How to get better in pick n’ roll. We do that a lot.
Dime: You were a theatre major at Fresno State, right? Was this theatre acting, or something else?
GS: I took a lot of communication classes and learned how to speak in crowds. It got my confidence up. In high school I’d do it, too, from acting or reading screenplays.
Dime: Are you a big movie guy, and if so what’s a recent movie role you think you could have nailed? Could you have pulled off Denzel in “Flight”?
GS: Yeah I am, I love action or comedy. I could do Denzel, but I’m more of a funny guy. I like will Smith and a lot of his movies.
Dime: OK, so we’ll see you in the “Hitch” sequel, then.
GS: (laughs) Yeah, that’d be great.
Dime: I have to ask: Omer Asik always looks like he has a bandage on his face. How does he always get hit? I’m sure he’s teaching you about positions on rebounding.
GS: Yes, basically he says hit them early. He does that a lot, where he’s teaching me to get my body in the right place and not let a man push on me. And he goes hard and he never takes a step back.
Dime: When you came out of Fresno State early, I can’t imagine you thought you’d play in Mexico for a bit. What was it like playing in Mexicali for a season? Did you live in the U.S. or live in Mexico?
GS: It was unique, it was kind of an experience that kept me motivated. All I did was work out all the time and sleep a lot. I just get to know myself and grow up as a grown man. I lived in Mexico for five months.
Dime: Jeremy Lin: Is he a “new” point guard who scores first, or do you feel he’s a traditional point who looks for teammates first?
GS: He’s in a league of his own because he can pass and he can score. It’s crazy playing with him because he has great vision. He can score but always has that vision as a point guard. It’s so good playing with him.
Dime: At Fresno State you also played with Paul George, right? Did you expect him to break out like this with an All-Star season?
GS: Man, that’s my big brother we talk almost every day. I’m so proud of how he’s handled this situation with Danny Granger getting hurt. He’s so confident and he’s a team leader. I’ve always seen what he’s doing, but he’s gotten better in everything he does and it’s just a matter of time before he gets that opportunity.
Dime: I’m sure you’ve got some good George stories from playing with him in college. Was there a time that he just embarrassed somebody?
GS: Oh yeah. This guy was guarding him, (George) got a rebound, pushed it, crossed him over, did a spin move, another spin move, then hit a fadeaway three. and I’m just like “wow.”
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