A night after being snubbed yet again for the Eastern Conference All-Star team, Josh Smith quickly proved the coaches should regret leaving him off the roster.
Squaring off against childhood friend and perennial All-Star Dwight Howard in Orlando, Smith dominated in every aspect of the game Friday night.
Smith led Atlanta in scoring, rebounds, assists and blocks as it became the first team in the Southeast Division to knock off the Magic this season.
Absent from the Eastern Conference All-Star roster, even though he is deserving, for the third consecutive season, Smith let his play trump any behind the scenes politics working against him on Friday.
Instead of sulking about his absence from the event held in Orlando later this month, Smith dominated on the court, leading his team to an 89-87 overtime victory.
Aside from his season-high 19 rebounds, Smith posted 23 points, five assists and three blocks displaying the all-around game that earned forwards Luol Deng and Andre Iguodala their first All-Star nominations yesterday.
As the buzzer was set to expire, Smith grabbed an errant shot from Jameer Nelson, his 18th defensive rebound of the game, and waved goodbye to the crowd as Atlanta improved its record to 18-9 on the season.
In the absence of two time All-Star center Al Horford, Smith has taken over as the leading rebounder for the Hawks, averaging a career-best 8.9 rebounds, along with 2.0 blocks, 1.5 steals and 15.6 points per game.
As one of just eight players averaging two or more blocks per game, he is among the leading candidates to unseat Howard for Defensive Player of the Year, an honor the Orlando center has claimed for three consecutive seasons.
Not only does Smith have the statistical resume to belong among the 12 players suiting up for the Eastern Conference this season, his style of play is exactly what should be on display during the leagues signature mid-season event.
The former slam dunk contest winner plays above the rim, is one of the most prolific help defenders, blocking three or more shots in nine of 26 games this season and provides versatility, always an asset for any roster.
Standing 6-foot-9, Smith serves as the defensive anchor for a team allowing just 91.3 points per game, the fifth fewest in the league, has five games with at least five assists and scored 20 or more points on six occasions.
His overall play has him leading Atlanta in PER and ranks 11th among power forwards receiving significant playing time.
Teammate Joe Johnson was selected to the All-Star Game for the sixth time in his career, but TNT analyst Charles Barkley immediately claimed Smith is catalyst behind the Hawks strong start and shouldn’t have been snubbed.
What is keeping Smith from securing a roster spot is his maturity. Smith takes wild shots, has drawn four technical fouls and clashed with coaches in the past.
This season, Smith showed up to training camp after the lockout weighing a career-low 225 pounds and hasn’t relented since.
During the contest before the All-Star reserves were announced, Smith led Atlanta to a win over the Pacers with 28 points, 12 rebounds, five steals, three assists and three blocks.
Too bad the coaches failed to notice, maybe Smith will have to settle for an All-NBA selection at the end of the year instead, where votes aren’t tallied by coaches.