TORONTO – Last week, as Josh Smith wrapped up what would turn out to be his final practice with the New Orleans Pelicans by competing in a spirited scrimmage, head coach Alvin Gentry watched from the sidelines and spoke about the 31-year-old forward who signed with the team in late October after the league granted the Pelicans with an injury hardship exception.
“He’s a smart basketball player, a good passer, and a streaky shooter but capable of making the three-point shot,” Gentry said. “He’s a multiple position player. Those guys usually have a lot of success in our league.”
The success of Smith’s NBA career has been debated throughout the years. Drafted 17th overall by the Atlanta Hawks in 2004, Smith belongs on the list of high schoolers who’ve had very productive careers in the league. At his peak, he was one of the league’s best defenders. In 2007, he became the youngest player in NBA history to record 500 career blocks. In 2010, Smith finished second in Defensive Player of the Year voting to Dwight Howard.
Per Basketball Reference, Smith is one of 10 players since steals and blocks were recorded in 1946-47 to have over 1,000 steals and 1,700 blocks in his career. It’s an esteemed list which includes Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, David Robinson, and Hakeem Olajuwon.
Smith was an agent of chaos on the court with his ability to guard multiple positions and disrupt opposing offenses with his athleticism. Rajon Rondo – now on the Pelicans, where Smith had his latest stay – played with Smith in high school at Oak Hill Academy.
“He was the most athletic guy I’ve ever played with, probably still to this day,” Rondo says. “He could bring it up the floor, he was a great playmaker, he blocked shots, he rebounded, he was one of those guys who could fill up a stat sheet with 20 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, five blocks, and get you five steals.”