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What most casual fans know about Hawks forward Josh Smith is that he won the slam-dunk contest as a rookie in 2005, then flamed out in the event last February. Atlanta was effectively eliminated from the playoff race after it lost 16 of its first 18 games last season, so the 20-year-old's transformation into one of the league's most versatile threats went relatively unnoticed. Smith raised his scoring from 8.2 points per game in December to 17.5 in April; he nailed 34 threes after the All-Star break, which was 34 more than he had before it; and he finished second in the league in blocked shots, with 208.
The 6'9", 225-pound Smith spent the summer patching the biggest holes left in his game: his dribbling and his outside shooting. Coach Mike Woodson says that Smith must improve as an on-the-ball defender but will be given "every opportunity" to help lead a young team--just three regulars are older than 25--to its first playoff berth in eight seasons. "Josh is only 20," says Woodson, "but he's already been thrown to the wolves."
Smith says his increased scoring came despite "not having one play run for me." Still, the Hawks are counting on him to help replace the production of forward Al Harrington, who was traded to the Pacers. But even if Smith becomes a focal point of the offense this year, don't expect to see him in Las Vegas for the All-Star festivities--unless he's selected to play in the game. "I'm going to pass on the dunk contest," he says. "It's time to show people that I'm the total package."
Projected Starting Lineup with 2005--06 statistics