Head coach Larry Drew certainly doesn’t think so, but after the Hawks convincing 109-95 win over the red-hot Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday, the Hawks may want to consider playing without star forward Josh Smith more often.
“We were good tonight; with Josh we’re better” said Drew after the win. “We definitely missed him tonight and tomorrow when he shows up he’ll get a big hug from me.”
It sure didn’t seem like the Hawks missed him. The team shot almost 58 percent, including 38.1 percent from long range, and had 33 assists in a game that they led by 26 at one point – all against a team riding in on a seven-game win streak.
Jeff Teague swaggered his way to a team-high 28 points and 11 assists and Zaza Pachulia almost notched his first triple-double “since playing in [the Republic of] Georgia.”
“When we play this way good things happen,” said Pachulia, who was two assists away from a triple-double, scoring 13 points to go with 11 rebounds in Smith’s absence. “We’ve got to do it more often.”
Smith was suspended for the game for conduct detrimental to the team prior to Wednesday’s win. He leads the Hawks with 16.5 points and 2.3 blocked shots per game and is averaging 8.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists.
Smith, a nine-year veteran, set career highs with averages of 18.8 points and 9.6 rebounds last season.
But with the star forward out of the lineup the Hawks played a smoother, more up-tempo and, frankly, better brand of basketball than they have for much of the season, and certainly over the last few games.
In the face of a funk like the one the Hawks are in – losers of six of their last eight – it’s easy to start pointing fingers, but like Drew, no one on the team was willing to say anything negative about Smith or the course of actions that got him suspended.
However, even without comment from the coach or the players, the numbers speak for themselves.
The Hawks are 3-0 without Smith this season. In those games, against the Thunder, Pacers and Nets, the Hawks averaged 107.3 points, compared to their usual 95 point per game average when Smith plays.
Ferry said he expects a positive response to the suspension from Smith.
“Josh and I discussed the issue and he understood and accepted this course of action,” Ferry said. “We are confident that he will respond positively, learn from this experience and come back with a renewed sense of purpose to the team moving forward.”
Smith can be a free agent after the season, and his future with the team is still up for discussion. After Ferry shipped Joe Johnson – who was booed from the time he touched the court for warm-ups until he left Philips Arena on Wednesday – and Marvin Williams before the season started, moving the 6’9” College Park native would hardly be unprecedented, especially if the Hawks keep falling in the Eastern Conference standings. Atlanta will travel to Brooklyn to play the Nets again tonight.
While the game certainly can’t be viewed as a litmus test for Smith’s worthiness within the organization – the Nets will be a team with a different attitude on a different night in a different arena – Danny Ferry and the rest of the Hawks front office would do well to watch how the team’s energy, attitude and effectiveness change over the course of 48 hours.
If the Hawks don’t get a ‘W’ tonight in BK, there will be a lot more people than this reporter wondering if the $13.2 million man is pulling his weight or pulling the team down.