Is Josh Smith More Valuable Than Luol Deng?

The Hawks need to be televised more often.  This team simply has too much promising young talent for that not to be the case.  If the networks can find a way to schedule in Kevin Durant and his putrid Sonics ten times a week, it would hardly seem too much to ask for them to find a way to show the team with perhaps the most talented young nucleus in the league every now and then.

We already knew Joe Johnson  could play.  So can Al Horford .  And Josh Childress.  And Acie Law.  And even Shelden Williams and Zaza Pachulia.  Marvin Williams is immensely talented.

But today's spotlight shines on the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week, who turned in his best game of the week last night after he was awarded the title.  That would be one Josh Smith.

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Hold it.  Back we go to the big market for a second.  To Chicago, in fact, where Luol Deng has been hailed as the next great franchise player in Chicago and was supposedly a large part of the reason why the Bulls didn't acquire Kobe Bryant this summer: because they wouldn't give him up.  Fair enough.  At 22, the precocious Deng is one of the league's most versatile players.  Standing 6-foot-9 and 220 pounds, he can play three positions.  He can score (17.5 per game this season) and score efficiently, rebound (6.8) and defend very well.  He is only expected to get better in the years to come, with the talent, the ability and the character to become one of the league's top players, especially as his outside shot improves.   No arguments here with any of that.  For what it's worth (fairly little in my estimation) Luol could play for my team any day.

But, see, here's the rub: Buried in Atlanta, Josh Smith could well be a bigger, better version of Luol Deng.  Yes, Smith has been known to have had some character concerns, which does give Deng a major edge in that department.  But like Deng, the kid is 22 and has a ways to go, and all indications seem to be that he is cleaning up his act in Atlanta.  Meanwhile, like Deng, Smith stands 6-foot-9, but unlike Deng, Smith weighs 235 pounds and is much stronger.  He lines up at power forward regularly for the Hawks but also has the type of game that allows him to play both wing spots as well.  The scoring and rebounding numbers are remarkably comparable (Smith scores 18.0 points per and grabs 7.2 boards), and though Deng is a more efficient shooter from the field, Smith's edge in the other areas of the game is incredible.  He dishes out 3.5 assists per game (to Deng's 1.7) and makes an incredible impact on the defensive end.  While defense is a largely unquantifiable commodity, the fact that Smith is the only player across the Association in the top ten in blocks (at 3.6 per game, he is first) and steals (1.9 per) says a lot.

Further, one can't overlook the explosiveness factor with Smith.  He has been known to electrify crowds with big slams and highlight-reel swats.  Of course, electrifying crowds isn't the stuff of winning basketball.  A blocked shot directed to a teammate means infinitely more than an "Ooooooh" swat out of bounds that leaves the opponent in position.  However, at 22, with a long way to go in refining his game, it doesn't hurt that Smith has the ability to singlehandedly raise the energy in a building and more importantly the morale of his teammates with one play at anytime.  With time, Smith should find the way to mess that explosiveness with controlled, sound basketball plays.  While Deng can certainly do his part for his team, he doesn't have that factor as of yet.

We bring this all up now because the timing is particurlarly pertinent for two reasons.  As was mentioned earlier, Smith received the honor for Eastern Conference Player of the Week on Monday afternoon.  By the end of the evening, however, the man had made the previous week look like nothing, as he outshined my boy Dwight Howard in going for 25 points, 16 boards, 5 dimes, 4 steals, 4 blocks and just 2 turnovers in the Hawks' upset win over the Magic.

Josh Smith can play.  So can a few of his 'mates.  And as they continue to grow together, the whole of this nation will come to know it.  In fact, when all is said and done, some might take him over the annointed savior-to-be in Hicag.

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The tale of the tape has been laid out.  Now, please don't hesitate to holler at us and share your preference: Josh Smith or Luol Deng?  Thanks, and here's looking forward to hearing from you.

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