In the build-up to the current 2016-17 NBA D-League season, NBADL fans had a lot to look forward to. From the deep crop of solid point guards, the two new expansion teams and even the D-League return of Pierre “Pappy Gawd” Jackson, more than a handful of storylines that would entertain D-League fans through the 50 game season. However, there stood one story that popped out of nowhere and surprised the basketball community. That story pertained to the incredible weight loss of RGV Vipers prospect Joshua Smith.
Dating back to his time at high school, Smith has widely been regarded as a talented player that had plenty of potential to eventually be a solid NBA player. However, the excitement around his talent was overshadowed by clear concerns about Smith being heavy and extremely out of shape. No matter how impressive he might’e been as a low-post scorer or offensive rebounder, scouts would still walk away remembering Smith as weighing as much as 320 pounds.
Those issues surrounding Smith’s weight persisted through his entire college career, whether he was with UCLA or Georgetown. Although Smith showcased himself to be a solid low-post player with a soft touch around the rim throughout his college career, his weight issues prevented him from getting any significant playing time. During his four year career, Smith only played 19.5 minutes per game where he averaged 10.3 points and 5.3 rebounds per game on 59% from the field.
Smith’s weight problems coinciding with limited playing time were the two tools that prevented him from being picked in the 2015 NBA Draft. Following that year’s draft, Smith was picked up by the Miami Heat to play both Vegas and Orlando Summer League. Despite struggling during those two stints, where he put up only 5 points and 4 rebounds per game on 44% from the field in 12 minutes per game, Smith still did enough to get signed by the Houston Rockets.
Despite the clear concerns about his weight or ability to play extended minutes, Smith fought like hell during his time with the Rockets’ preseason roster. Playing all nine preseason games, Smith impressed by putting up 6.4 points and 5.9 rebounds on 61% from the field in only 16 minutes per game. That production was enough to push Smith to almost making the Rockets roster, as he was their final cut before the 2015-16 season. Immediately following his release from the team, the Rockets allocated Smith to the RGV Vipers.
Smith started his D-League career on a pretty positive note as he had a 20 point, 8 rebound double-double performance during his debut game against the Idaho Stampede. Although he obviously didn’t put up those kind of numbers on a night-by-night basis, Smith still stood as a solid player that can give you solid production in 20-25 minutes per game. That status stuck through the 1st half of the season as Smith averaged 10.5 points and 5.4 rebounds per game on 63% from the field.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about Smith during the post-All-Star game portion of that year’s season. During that portion of the season, Smith got pushed so far to the back of the Vipers depth chart that there were a handful of games where Smith stood as a healthy DNP. That downtrend was due to Smith’s weight continuing to swell as the season wore on. Smith’s weight issues was such a huge concern that the RGV Vipers were actually almost ready to cut him towards the latter parts of the season.
After that up-and-done rookie season, Smith decided to dedicate the off-season to working out to finally lose some of the weight that has been such a huge deterrent during his basketball career. Spending the off-season with stud NBA trainer Casey Trujeque, the 383-pound Smith worked so hard that he was able to lost upwards of 50-plus pounds prior to his Summer League stint with the Milwaukee Bucks. Although Smith knew that one successful time in Summer League wasn’t enough, he still remained optimistic. That optimism is evident when you look at the following quote from a July 2016 interview with The Vertical:
Smith was able to show all of those traits in a Friday night matchup against the Texas Legends. In 31 minutes, Smith put up a career-high 27 points and 12 rebounds on 11-17 shooting in the Vipers’ win over Texas. Although he’s shown some flashes this year of being a more mobile player, Smith looked like a completely different big against Texas.
Throughout his entire 31 minutes on the court, Smith was working his tail off on both ends of the court. Defensively, Smith showed quick footwork that allowed him to block two shots as a help defender. On the other side of the court, Smith showed himself as a big that looked solid as a pick-and-roll big. For someone that currently stands 290, Smith showcased incredible mobility as he was regularly able to make some pretty smooth drives to the rim, whether he was working on or off-ball. The best example of his mobility is shown in the clip below where Smith runs from the perimeter to put in the aggressive putback slam.
Before we get too excited about Friday night’s performance, it would be smart to remind you that Smith is producing at the same rate that he did at this point last season. In his first 25 games, Smith is averaging 9.8 points and 6.2 rebounds on 67% from the field in 16.9 minutes per game.
Despite that, you should still remain optimistic about what Smith can do going forward. While he’s putting up similar numbers to last year, Smith stands as a completely different player than we’ve ever seen from him in college or his initial season with the RGV Vipers. This season, Smith has shown that he can work as a screen-and-roll big offensively while working as a help defender on the other end of the court. Perhaps more important than that is how Smith is able to do that through an entire quarter.
Although he still has a long ways to go to reaching his NBA dreams, Smith seems to finally be on the right path. After an entire career spent going through weight problems , the new-look Smith is clearly in the best shape he’s ever been which is evident by his performance on the court.
Will he be putting up 27 points and 9 rebounds on a game-by-game basis? Probably not. But there’s a chance that he could get some NBA looks if he’s able to combine his well-rounded game with the stamina needed to play significant minutes every night. While he still has a long ways to go, Joshua Smith appears to be on his road to redemption.