Backboard’s Shadow: Craig Smith

Michael Pina is a contributing writer to the Huffington Post and Hoop Doctors.His Backboard’s Shadow column runs weekly here at Hardwood Paroxysm.

Here at Backboard’s Shadow the main purpose is to shine a light on those who deserve it.  Sometimes the spotlight is triggered by a hot stretch of impressive play, sometimes it’s to point out a player whom I believe will make an impact in the future (Trevor Ariza circa January 2009 would fit this criteria perfectly) and sometimes it’s to pull the curtain back on a player who people have been sleeping on for far too long. Today the focus is Craig Smith, a player who snugly fits into the last description.

Growing up down the street from Conte Forum, watching the Boston College product rip the ACC to shreds for four years was more than enjoyable.  He recklessly crashed the boards, tenaciously attacked the rim and with the ball in his hands wouldn’t accept no for an answer like an old man trying to send soup back at a deli.

Even though it was just five years ago, it feels like a decade and unfortunately it seems like people have forgotten what made Smith such a dominating college player.  Say his name to a casual fan and you’ll most likely meet the following response:

He’s that undersized, burly guy who used to be in Minnesota’s front court right?  Wasn’t he traded to the Clippers along with about 47 other players this summer in the Quentin Richardson merry go round?

Yes, yes he was.

Does he get minutes? He was pretty good in college.

Yes, yes he does.

Without further ado it’s time to educate.  Craig Smith is the most offensively gifted reserve forward in the league (apologies to Carl Landry who plays nearly twice as much). His collection of scoring tactics are a grocery list that would make William Perry jealous.  When the ball is in his hands and the basket is within 10 feet, there is nobody who one on one can shut him down.

It’s funny how the draft works though.  For a player to carve his own niche in the NBA it seems like he’s got to dig through a brick wall with a plastic spoon.  Despite what he displayed in college, players with weaker resumes like Tyrus Thomas and Josh Boone were taken above him strictly based on what they might grow to become.

The other players who were selected before Smith simply because he was projected to be too small for the four and too slow for the three is rather astounding.  He’s played in more games than LaMarcus Aldridge and Andrea Bargnani, has scored more points than J.J. Redick and Adam Morrison combined and has the number one field goal percentage in his entire draft class.

Four years later he’s now a 26-year-old in a contract year.  Whichever club decides to court him for the next three or four years will not be disappointed.  Sure defensively he can be taken advantage of if the other team’s got multiple giants, but on the whole he’s talented enough to tip the scales in a contender’s favor.

This past week against the Celtics and the league’s deepest, most devastating defensive front line, Smith beamed his game back to 2003 and treated his opponents like they were the Clemson Tigers.   He single-handedly kept the other L.A. team in the game with 10 straight points in the fourth quarter. Elusive up and unders, head fakes, ball fakes, shoulder dropping brute force aggressiveness, all were on display as the former Eagle did as he pleased.

Did Craig Smith take over a basketball game that featured a laundry list of all-star and hall-of-fame talent? Yes, yes he did.