Washington Wizards: Jason Smith Turned Season Around By Staying Ready

Mar 7, 2017; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Washington Wizards forward Jason Smith (14) against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 7, 2017; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Washington Wizards forward Jason Smith (14) against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

Washington Wizards big man Jason Smith was off to one of the worst starts of his career, but managed to turn his season around by staying ready.

“Stay ready. You never know when your name’s going to get called.”

That mantra has been repeated by NBA coaches since the league’s inception. With just 48 minutes in a game, some players will inevitably be left on the bench, desperately clinging to every sound of that phrase, hoping their time will come.

Jason Smith has made a living in the NBA simply by staying ready.

Smith has played for five different teams in his 10-year career, never truly solidifying a role for himself during any season. This past summer, the Washington Wizards signed Smith to a five-year deal, adding depth to their already stacked front court.

When it was announced that Ian Mahinmi would miss the beginning of the season due to knee injury, Smith naturally moved up Scott Brooks‘ depth chart, becoming Marcin Gortat‘s backup.

Known for his mid-range jump shot, Smith struggled to find his rhythm in Washington, posting a -7.14 player efficiency rating for an entire month.

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I’ve personally never seen anyone with a negative player efficiency rating, including Eric Maynor, who was so bad that the tanking Philadelphia 76ers waived him.

After a November shoot around, Ernie Grunfeld, who received backlash after signing Smith in the off-season, approached Smith and reminded him to have fun.

The struggles didn’t end, but neither did Smith’s persistence.

He continued to show his energy – whether it was diving for a loose ball on the court or being the first player off the bench during a timeout, cheering on his teammates.

His professionalism and almost annoying positive attitude helped the Wizards keep a clear mind during a 2-8 start to the season. And perhaps even more importantly, his presence on the team helped dig the Washington Wizards out of the early season hole, climbing as high as second in the Eastern Conference.

Since the nightmarish start, Smith has bounced back and has become arguably the most consistent player on the Wizards’ second unit.

Smith is hitting a career-high 54 percent of his total shots, finding his touch from the mid-range area.

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The work Smith put in the off-season, specifically from behind the 3-point line (as Candace Buckner detailed), has paid off too.

Smith is hitting over 51 percent of his looks from deep, giving John Wall another target on the perimeter.

Last week against the Chicago Bulls, Smith filled in as a starter for Brooks, replacing Markieff Morris, who was out with illness.

Smith scored 17 points, making 3 of his 6 attempts from three.

Whenever the Wizards needed to score or their offense became stagnant, Smith was the bailout option.

“I just try to come in and get my work done, whether it’s game days, practice days, just come in and be consistent no matter if it’s going out there and getting shots up early, going out there playing five minutes, going out there playing 30 minutes,” said Smith after his best individual performance of the season. “I’m ready to go.”

Smith played 38 minutes against the Bulls and seemed to do enough to crack Brooks’ rotation for the remainder of the season. But time, as mentioned, is limited.

Mahinmi, whom the Washington Wizards paid $64 million, will remain ahead of Smith in the rotation. And with Morris back and healthy, Smith will look for scrap minutes.

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A week after his breakout performance, Smith is back to playing about 15 minutes per game. But his energy and commitment to the organization hasn’t changed, even though his statistical totals (and player efficiency rating, which is now close to league average) have increased.