Washington Wizards center Jason Smith had a rough start to the 2016-17 season, but has become the team’s most important reserve.
When the free agent dust from last summer finally settled, the Washington Wizards had made a few moves under the radar.
The biggest signing, quite literally, was Ian Mahinmi. A few other teams had shown some interest, but general manager Ernie Grunfeld‘s four-year, $64 million offer was too much for the former Indiana Pacers’ center to pass on.
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The Wizards also acquired underachieving point guard Trey Burke to make up for losing back up Ramon Sessions to the Charlotte Hornets.
A few other players made for bigger headlines, such as Euroleague star Tomas Santoransky and Andrew Nicholson.
However, there was another name that made most shrug their shoulders – Jason Smith.
Nothing in particular stands out about Smith’s game from the past. He was perhaps best known to Wizards fan as the guy John Wall introduced the reverse spinning layup against during the Christmas Day matchup versus New York two years ago.
Other than his height, Smith does not have the look of an NBA player.
Ben Mehic, our site editor, has even called him “his favorite stepdad.”
Now that Coach Scott Brooks has the Wizards’ rotations settled in, Smith comes in and plays a big role for the team.
After the Smith signing was announced, a lot of Wizards fans scratched their heads.
They already had two other bigs with Marcin Gortat at the starting center position, Mahinmi coming to either backup Gortat or take his job outright, and then Smith.
It’s rare in today’s NBA that a team would have three “traditional” big men all vying to play center.
It was even more of a bizarre signing because the Wizards had tried having only tradition big men in the previous seasons under Coach Randy Wittman.
While it brought the Washington Wizards some success (especially in the playoffs), it was definitely time to upgrade the playing style if the team was going to try to contend.
Mahinmi’s knees ended up being more problematic than originally thought, which freed up the backup center spot for Smith.
During the Wizards’ awful start to the season, Smith would come into the game and look completely lost. He would press and play outside of his abilities once he was in the game, which made him look even worse.
Smith was primarily brought in to provide defense, rebounding, and energy, but he was routinely caught making the wrong choice on defense and the second team struggled.
Washington has managed to climb out of their early-season hole and are currently third in the Eastern Conference.
Key players such as Bradley Beal and Otto Porter were starting to play the way Coach Brooks envisioned from the pre-season and provide the help on offense that Wall has rarely had on past Wizards teams.
While the bench remains a huge question mark, Smith has started to come in and provide a spark that wasn’t there in the beginning.
Smith’s jump shot is almost automatic from mid-range and he’s beginning to extend out to the 3-point line.
He also displays sneaky athleticism by having monster put back dunks or rejecting unsuspecting players at the rim.
Because of Smith’s success, the team was able to allow Mahinmi time to not rush back into action. Something that was unthinkable in the summer, team execs now seem to have buyer’s remorse on Mahinmi and are rumored to be shopping him around before the NBA Trade Deadline.
None of this would have been mentioned or possible without the strong play of Smith.
Washington Wizards fans have now warmed to Smith and he is becoming a fan favorite around the Verizon Center with his hustle, defense, and his ability to knock down the jump shot.
It also appears that Smith is picking up pointers from Gortat on how to free up the shooters on off-ball screens.
What was once mocked and ridiculed by everyone, the Jason Smith offseason acquisition has been the best free agent move for the Washington Wizards this year and will continue to help the team as they try to move forward to the playoffs.