Finally getting open looks, Smith becomes shooting star for Spurs

ON THE NFL

Pro Basketball

January 20, 2002|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - Among long-range shooters, there are three desired states of being: Hot, unconscious and the state that San Antonio swingman Steve Smith is in.

Smith, in his 11th season, is having the kind of season from three-point range that can only be dreamed of, and the reasons are pretty real.

"I haven't been this open before. I get a lot of open looks. I've always in my career been one of the guys teams try to stop, so you're never going to get an open look," said Smith before last week's game against the Wizards.

"Now, late in my career, I'm playing with two guys in Tim [Duncan] and David [Robinson] that command so much attention, and when you play with other great shooters, like a Terry Porter, who is shooting 40-some percent and Danny Ferry, you have to have success.

"When you put all of us out on the court, you have to double Tim. That's two people, and one person has to stay with David. Then you have to make a decision [about] which guy is going to get wide-open looks, where he can take his time and shoot instead of having somebody standing over him."

Smith is hitting threes at a blistering .565 percentage. At that pace, a 20 percent jump from his career .355 three-point average, Smith will own the NBA's single-season record for three-point accuracy, obliterating Steve Kerr's 7-year old mark of .524, set when Kerr was with the Chicago Bulls.

"Our chemistry problem is lack of time being together," said Smith, 32, now with his fourth franchise after being traded from Portland to the Spurs in the off-season. He is averaging 12.9 points, the second lowest total of his career.

"If you think about it, David and Tim are the only starters from last year," he continued. "They've brought [in] myself, Bruce Bowen and Tony Parker, and we have a 19-year-old [Parker] running the show. ... So it's taken some time."

Yet, even with the adjustments, the Spurs are in the hunt with the Lakers, Sacramento and Minnesota for the West's best record. And when Bowen, a terrific defender, and Parker, a Rookie of the Year candidate, return from injuries, San Antonio isn't likely to go away.

"It fits good here," Smith said. "There are a lot of veteran guys who know the game and want to win, who are sincere about how to play the game, [and] go out and play the game the right way.

"The thing is, for us, we feel we've played well when we were together. We've haven't played as well since we had these injuries, but then, we can't complain when we look at our record. So, if we can get it all together and play a little bit better, we'll be right there at the top."

Quick quiz

New Jersey point guard Jason Kidd is closing in on the 5,000th assist of his career, which, at his current pace, he could reach tomorrow in Dallas, where his career began.

Kidd figures to reach 5,000 the sixth fastest of any league player. The first four (Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson, John Stockton and Isiah Thomas) are pretty obvious. Name the fifth, and the hint is he preceded Kidd in one of his stops.

Big man's blues

There's been a suggestion that Shaquille O'Neal got off lightly with only a three-game suspension for swinging at the back of Chicago center Brad Miller's head last week after a play.

If anything, from this perspective, O'Neal was punished a little too heavily. The replay showed Miller and Charles Oakley taking shots to O'Neal's head, yet Miller got only a one-game suspension and Oakley two, proving that the guy who fights back always gets punished worse than the guy(s) who started it.

O'Neal, who warned referees that he was getting clubbed by the Bulls' tandem, has taken a steady beating over his career and only now erupted in response. This has been coming for a long time - and could have been avoided had officials stopped letting opposing centers and power forwards have open season on him.

Putting him on the foul line should be punishment enough for O'Neal.

Rising of the green

The Nets and the Boston Celtics are running neck-and-neck atop the Atlantic Division and for status as the league's most surprising team.

The Celtics ought to edge New Jersey in the surprise category.

"We're a lot more talented than we were a year ago, even though we've gotten younger with the addition of the rookies and a few guys that we picked up," said swingman Paul Pierce.

"Players are starting to understand their roles. It's very hard for younger players to accept having roles. With Coach [Jim] O'Brien, guys are really understanding what role they'll serve game in and game out, and they've accepted those roles. Antoine [Walker] and I being veterans, we have a chance to lead this team, and we're improving each and every year, and I think that's the main part."

Quiz answer

Kevin Johnson, the lead guard in Phoenix before Kidd, needed 519 games to get to 5,000 assists.

Quote of the week

"I sit at courtside now, and I smile. I've never seen anything like this. It's such a beautiful and simple game to watch when it's played right."- Nets official scorer Herb Turetzky, after New Jersey thumped Washington, 111-67, on Wednesday.

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