Josh Smith spent his first nine NBA seasons with the Atlanta Hawks. There was no denying his value as a defender, but he never really seemed to put it all together elsewhere. Despite being incredibly physically gifted, Smith never developed into the offensive threat that the Hawks wanted him to be and that he could have been.
This summer, though, the Hawks decided not to re-sign Smith, who is now a member of the Detroit Pistons. As they moved on from Smith and tried to re-vamp their roster this off-season, the Hawks actually stumbled onto one of the best free-agent deals of the summer, inking Paul Millsap to a two-year, $19 million contract.
As a power forward, Millsap will likely come into Atlanta and take the minutes and role that Smith left behind. Because of that, curious minds have to wonder what Millsap brings to the table for the Hawks that Smith didn’t and where Millsap will be a drop-off from Smith. (On a related note: I am a curious mind.)
The obvious drop-off from Smith to Millsap is on the defensive end of the floor. Last season, Smith posted a 101 defensive rating, averaged 1.3 steals and 1.8 blocks per 36 minutes, and finished the season with 4.5 defensive win shares. In comparison, Millsap posted a defensive rating of 104, averaged 1.5 steals and 1.2 blocks per 36 minutes, and finished the year with only 2.9 defensive win shares. They were similar in terms of rebounding, though, with Millsap posting a 13.7 percent rebound rate and Smith posting a 13.6 percent rate.
Millsap is an above-average defender and a solid team defender. However, he doesn’t have the physical gifts of Smith, which makes him less impactful on that end of the floor. It won’t be a catastrophic fall from Smith to Millsap, but there’s a definite difference between the two on the defensive end.
However, Millsap may have the edge on Smith on the other end of the floor. Just looking at the counting stats, it might seem like Smith had the better season. Last year Smith averaged 17.8 pints and 4.3 assists per 36 minutes while Millsap averaged only 17.2 points and three assists per 36 minutes. However, whenever you factor in efficiency and the advanced numbers, it’s pretty clear that Millsap has a noticeably edge.
Last season Millsap shot 49 percent from the field to Smith’s 46.5 percent. Moreover, Millsap converted on 74.2 percent of his free throws while Smith hit only 51.7 percent of his. The biggest indicator, though, is the fact that Millsap shot 33.3 percent from three while Smith shot only 30.3 percent. Though both players were inefficient from beyond-the-arc, Millsap took only 39 threes all season while Smith took a whopping 201. That shows a huge discrepancy in terms of IQ on the offensive end of the floor.
Millsap has the edge offensively over Smith, while Smith is the better defender of the two. However, it feels like Millsap has a slight edge overall because of something else.
With the Hawks last year, Smith had a usage rate of 26.7 percent while Millsap had a usage rate of 22.4 percent while with the Utah Jazz. Millsap is a player who demands the ball less to be effective, largely because he’s a more efficient player than Smith. This means that the Hawks will be able to run more of their offense through Al Horford.
Horford is the centerpiece for this Hawks team moving forward. Last year he averaged 17.4 points, 10.2 rebounds and 3.2 assists in 37.2 minutes per game. However, he wasn’t able to reach his maximum potential because Smith needed the ball so much in the offense. With Millsap in place, though, Horford will be much more prominent and could prove to be the All-Star many believe that he is.
Smith brought a lot of positive things to the Hawks in his nine-year tenure and also brought a lot of groans, particularly when he would pull up from long-range. Millsap may not have the potential of Smith or the same defensive prowess, but it seems like he may be a better fit for Atlanta.