The Atlanta Hawks have quietly been climbing up the standings in the Eastern Conference and are currently occupying the five-seed for the nearing NBA Playoffs. After looking like they might be slipping by losing six out of seven games, the Hawks have won three straight. In their last two wins, they have largely been carried by the enigmatic Josh Smith.
Smith missed the Hawks’ game against the Los Angeles Lakers last Wednesday, but has really been their most prolific player in Atlanta’s two games since then. Over his last two games, Smith has averaged 21 points, six assists, eight rebounds, 1.5 blocks and two steals per game. He’s also shot an incredibly efficient 60.7 percent from the floor in those two games. All of those stats except the blocks per game exceed his averages for the season.
No one should really be surprised that Smith is elevating his play, though. Smith becomes a free agent after this season, and it has been made clear by both he and the team that this will almost certainly be his last season with the Hawks. This means that Smith is playing for a new contract, one that he obviously hopes will include a good chunk of change.
With about a month remaining in this season, Smith is undoubtedly going to do everything he can to try and earn himself a hefty contract this off-season. This means that he’s going to be aggressive, but also smart so that teams can’t knock him for his inefficiency. He’s basically going to be a better player than he has been for most of the season.
Though it is somewhat of a slap in the face to the Hawks organization for Smith to hit an extra gear for what seems like largely selfish reasons, Atlanta is actually the ultimate beneficiary of Smith’s elevated level of play.
This was never more evident when they comfortably handled the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday, bringing the Hawks within just one game of the Nets in the East. Smith’s newfound spunk might beg the question of why he hasn’t been doing this all along, but it doesn’t really matter because Atlanta is getting rewarded from him doing it now.