We know Joe Johnson gets most of the headlines, earns most of the All-Star appearances and makes most of the money. But Josh Smith is, to me, Atlanta’s best player and it’s not even close. Sure, he often tosses up one or two (or one or two dozen) ill-advised jump shots per game and he’s not particularly known as someone who brings consistency to the court each night. But Smith can do everything. He defends. He dominates the glass. He’s one of the best big-man passers in the NBA today. He’s Atlanta’s best transition option. He can catch a rebound and then lead the break, putting all kinds of pressure on the defense.
Without Smith (and Horford, and Pachulia), the Hawks are down to Collins and Ivan Johnson as their two functioning big men. While Paul Pierce and the Celtics surged by the Hawks in the fourth quarter, Larry Drew had almost no choice but to respond with a lineup of Jeff Teague, Kirk Hinrich, Willie Green, Joe Johnson and Ivan Johnson. Marvin Williams could have played but he was impersonating the neighborhood drunk; Jason Collins could have played but A) the Celtics were going small and B) he’s Jason Collins. Losing Smith would be a crushing blow for the Hawks.