Who’s Better: Gerald Wallace or Josh Smith?

12.02.09 8 years ago 32 Comments

Gerald Wallace

We argue. You decide.

GERALD WALLACE (by Austin Burton)
It bugs me when we get into these kind of arguments and somebody responds with, “(Player X), and it’s not even close.” That’s the dumbest thing you could say.

This isn’t Tennessee vs. UNC-Asheville. When comparing two professional ballplayers of at least borderline All-Star caliber talent, it’s always close. If it’s Kobe Bryant against Adam Morrison, sure, it’s not even close. If it’s Kobe against Ray Allen it’s close. Unless Kobe is dropping 35-40 points on Ray each time they meet — which isn’t the case — it’s always close.

That said, Josh Smith vs. Gerald Wallace is the closest matchup we’ve had so far. Neither has a blatant advantage in size, experience, athleticism or stats. Both are hybrid forwards, built like threes while playing like fours. Neither can shoot threes. Both have matured from mere highlight specialists to all-around productive deadly weapons. Neither is an ideal go-to guy, rather both flourish playing complementary roles. On paper, the only real noticeable difference is Smith’s playoff experience.

But in this rare case where almost all things are actually even, I’d take Wallace. Although Smith is currently leading the NBA in blocks and makes the highlight reel about as often as LeBron and Dwight Howard with his rejections, Wallace is a more complete defender who can guard more positions on-ball. During last night’s Bobcats/Celtics game he spent time sticking Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Shelden Williams. And although Smith has an extra two inches and 15-20 pounds on Wallace, “Crash” is pound-for-pound a better rebounder: Going into Tuesday’s schedule, Wallace was averaging 11.8 boards this season to Smith’s 9.2 rpg, including one 20-rebound game. Over the last three seasons, Wallace has averaged 7.0 rebounds to Smith’s 8.0, however Wallace was regularly playing small forward in that time while Smith primarily played power forward. In their only head-to-head meeting this season, Wallace outrebounded Smith 18-7 in a blowout win.

Last week, Wallace outplayed LeBron. Like most Charlotte games, you probably didn’t see it. Defying the reputation he’s earned for living on garbage buckets and fast breaks, Crash was beating LeBron in the post, off the dribble and with his jumper, on his way to 31 points, 14 boards and three steals. (And what would a Bobcats game be without Wallace almost knocking himself out in a collision with the hardwood?)

One game doesn’t tell the whole story, but at the same time, I can’t see Josh Smith duplicating that one game. Would you feel as confident going into a game where Smith is your top offensive option? Would you feel confident predicting Smith could go head-to-head with the most talented player in the world and beat him? Wallace and Smith both thrive in their position as high-profile role players, but what separates Wallace is that he can survive in the wild if he had to assume a more valuable title.

Josh Smith

JOSH SMITH (by Gerald Narciso)
I’m not going to lie, I wasn’t feeling Josh Smith when he first got into the league. Yeah, I knew about the jaw-dropping athleticism. I remember watching this slender 6-8 lefty in the 2004 McDonald’s All-American Game just pin somebody’s fast break layup against the glass. But I felt he was lazy and I heard all these horror stories about his perceived attitude. In fact, I covered the 2005 Rocky Mountain Revue Summer League in Utah and wrote this about Smith:

“Josh Smith wowed the crowd with blocks and several monster dunks. He also had the crowd laughing a bit with his casual demeanor on the court. There were many times when Smith would just lightly jog during games, displaying a very questionable attitude”

Some four years later, and I’m now a Josh Smith advocate. J-Smoove has been nothing short of sensational in ’09-10. His stats prove he is one of the most versatile players in the league. In 17 games this season, Smith is averaging 16.1 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 3.9 apg, 1.6 spg and 2.7 bpg while shooting 53.5 percent from the floor. His rebounds, assists, steals and field goal percentages are all career-highs. Best of all, he is one of the main pieces to this Atlanta Hawks team that is currently sitting at 12-5 and tied for 3rd place in the Eastern Conference.

Gerald Wallace is a player I’m big on, too. He is also a multi-dimensional player. For awhile this season, Wallace was leading the NBA in rebounds (he is currently fourth). How many 6-7 small forwards can do that? But when it comes to the total package, I don’t think you can pick Wallace over Smith.

Statistically, there isn’t much of a comparison. Yeah, Wallace gives you more rebounds, but Smith has the edge in points, assists, blocks, field goal percentage, and he does it in six less minutes per game. He also fouls less and is less turnover-prone. Smith is also bigger (listed at 6-9, 240 lbs. to Wallace’s 6-7, 220 lbs.) and in my opinion more athletic than Wallace. This makes Smith more of a threat at both the three and the four positions.

Wallace has always been a hard worker and hasn’t really clashed with coaches. Smith in the past has, but it seems like he has grown up so much over the years. On top of raising his stats, Smith has started to listen to constructive criticism. He has played smarter and more efficient. Last year, people thought Smith settled for the outside shot too much; this year, he has limited his range and has only attempted three treys this season.

Obviously Smith plays on a better, more talented team. But even if roles were reversed, I think the Hawks would still be better off with Smith in their lineup. Plus J-Smoove is four years younger than Wallace, so he has more potential to become even better.

Who do you think is better?

Follow Austin Burton on Twitter: @AustinatDIMEmag
Follow Gerald Narcisco on Twitter: @Gerald_Narciso
Follow DIME on Twitter: @DIMEMag

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