NBA / Dec 2, 2009 / 9:00 am

Who’s Better: Gerald Wallace or Josh Smith?

Gerald Wallace

We argue. You decide.

GERALD WALLACE (by Austin Burton)
It bugs me when we get into these kind of arguments and somebody responds with, “(Player X), and it’s not even close.” That’s the dumbest thing you could say.

This isn’t Tennessee vs. UNC-Asheville. When comparing two professional ballplayers of at least borderline All-Star caliber talent, it’s always close. If it’s Kobe Bryant against Adam Morrison, sure, it’s not even close. If it’s Kobe against Ray Allen it’s close. Unless Kobe is dropping 35-40 points on Ray each time they meet — which isn’t the case — it’s always close.

That said, Josh Smith vs. Gerald Wallace is the closest matchup we’ve had so far. Neither has a blatant advantage in size, experience, athleticism or stats. Both are hybrid forwards, built like threes while playing like fours. Neither can shoot threes. Both have matured from mere highlight specialists to all-around productive deadly weapons. Neither is an ideal go-to guy, rather both flourish playing complementary roles. On paper, the only real noticeable difference is Smith’s playoff experience.

But in this rare case where almost all things are actually even, I’d take Wallace. Although Smith is currently leading the NBA in blocks and makes the highlight reel about as often as LeBron and Dwight Howard with his rejections, Wallace is a more complete defender who can guard more positions on-ball. During last night’s Bobcats/Celtics game he spent time sticking Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Shelden Williams. And although Smith has an extra two inches and 15-20 pounds on Wallace, “Crash” is pound-for-pound a better rebounder: Going into Tuesday’s schedule, Wallace was averaging 11.8 boards this season to Smith’s 9.2 rpg, including one 20-rebound game. Over the last three seasons, Wallace has averaged 7.0 rebounds to Smith’s 8.0, however Wallace was regularly playing small forward in that time while Smith primarily played power forward. In their only head-to-head meeting this season, Wallace outrebounded Smith 18-7 in a blowout win.

Last week, Wallace outplayed LeBron. Like most Charlotte games, you probably didn’t see it. Defying the reputation he’s earned for living on garbage buckets and fast breaks, Crash was beating LeBron in the post, off the dribble and with his jumper, on his way to 31 points, 14 boards and three steals. (And what would a Bobcats game be without Wallace almost knocking himself out in a collision with the hardwood?)

One game doesn’t tell the whole story, but at the same time, I can’t see Josh Smith duplicating that one game. Would you feel as confident going into a game where Smith is your top offensive option? Would you feel confident predicting Smith could go head-to-head with the most talented player in the world and beat him? Wallace and Smith both thrive in their position as high-profile role players, but what separates Wallace is that he can survive in the wild if he had to assume a more valuable title.

Josh Smith

JOSH SMITH (by Gerald Narciso)
I’m not going to lie, I wasn’t feeling Josh Smith when he first got into the league. Yeah, I knew about the jaw-dropping athleticism. I remember watching this slender 6-8 lefty in the 2004 McDonald’s All-American Game just pin somebody’s fast break layup against the glass. But I felt he was lazy and I heard all these horror stories about his perceived attitude. In fact, I covered the 2005 Rocky Mountain Revue Summer League in Utah and wrote this about Smith:

“Josh Smith wowed the crowd with blocks and several monster dunks. He also had the crowd laughing a bit with his casual demeanor on the court. There were many times when Smith would just lightly jog during games, displaying a very questionable attitude”

Some four years later, and I’m now a Josh Smith advocate. J-Smoove has been nothing short of sensational in ’09-10. His stats prove he is one of the most versatile players in the league. In 17 games this season, Smith is averaging 16.1 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 3.9 apg, 1.6 spg and 2.7 bpg while shooting 53.5 percent from the floor. His rebounds, assists, steals and field goal percentages are all career-highs. Best of all, he is one of the main pieces to this Atlanta Hawks team that is currently sitting at 12-5 and tied for 3rd place in the Eastern Conference.

Gerald Wallace is a player I’m big on, too. He is also a multi-dimensional player. For awhile this season, Wallace was leading the NBA in rebounds (he is currently fourth). How many 6-7 small forwards can do that? But when it comes to the total package, I don’t think you can pick Wallace over Smith.

Statistically, there isn’t much of a comparison. Yeah, Wallace gives you more rebounds, but Smith has the edge in points, assists, blocks, field goal percentage, and he does it in six less minutes per game. He also fouls less and is less turnover-prone. Smith is also bigger (listed at 6-9, 240 lbs. to Wallace’s 6-7, 220 lbs.) and in my opinion more athletic than Wallace. This makes Smith more of a threat at both the three and the four positions.

Wallace has always been a hard worker and hasn’t really clashed with coaches. Smith in the past has, but it seems like he has grown up so much over the years. On top of raising his stats, Smith has started to listen to constructive criticism. He has played smarter and more efficient. Last year, people thought Smith settled for the outside shot too much; this year, he has limited his range and has only attempted three treys this season.

Obviously Smith plays on a better, more talented team. But even if roles were reversed, I think the Hawks would still be better off with Smith in their lineup. Plus J-Smoove is four years younger than Wallace, so he has more potential to become even better.

Who do you think is better?

Follow Austin Burton on Twitter: @AustinatDIMEmag
Follow Gerald Narcisco on Twitter: @Gerald_Narciso
Follow DIME on Twitter: @DIMEMag

“Who’s better?” archives
11.30 — Brandon Jennings vs. Derrick Rose
9.25 — Tim Hardaway vs. Kevin Johnson
9.22 — Hedo Turkoglu vs. Rashard Lewis
9.15 — Reggie Miller vs. Clyde Drexler
9.2 — Chris Paul vs. Tony Parker
8.27 — Grant Hill vs. Trevor Ariza
8.25 — Baron Davis vs. Mike Bibby
8.21 — Shaquille O’Neal vs. Pau Gasol
8.19 — Andre Iguodala vs. Rudy Gay
8.14 — Ray Allen vs. Michael Redd
8.12 — Steve Nash vs. Jason Kidd
3.3 — David West vs. LaMarcus Aldridge
2.26 — Kevin Durant vs. Danny Granger
2.19 — Paul Millsap vs. David Lee
2.17 — Caron Butler vs. Tayshaun Prince
12.24.08 — Marcus Camby vs. Andrew Bynum
12.19.08 — Deron Williams vs. Chauncey Billups
12.17.08 — Manu Ginobili vs. Tracy McGrady
12.12.08 — Amare Stoudemire vs. Al Jefferson
12.10.08 — Dirk Nowitzki vs. Chris Bosh
12.9.08 — Derrick Rose vs. O.J. Mayo
12.8.08 — Rasheed Wallace vs. Elton Brand
12.5.08 — Kevin Martin vs. Vince Carter
12.4.08 — Brandon Roy vs. Joe Johnson
12.3.08 — Dwight Howard vs. Yao Ming
12.2.08 — Paul Pierce vs. Carmelo Anthony

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  • The Journeyman

    GO Wallace!

  • Rizwan

    Wow! This comparison i smuch more on the money. Both these players are very similar and tough to pick between!

    But as usual, Gerald makes a LAME ASS ARGUMENT

  • star_bury

    I take Smith. He’s 4 years younger. He’s one of a handful of guys who make enough jaw-dropping plays to cover the price of admission all on his own.

    Nothing against Wallace. I think he’d be a great piece of the puzzle and I’d love to see him on a good team one day…

  • Rizwan

    Wow! This comparison i smuch more on the money. Both these players are very similar and tough to pick between.

    I think I would pick Wallace primarily because he has the ability to explode offensively and Josh Smith couldnt hit a jump shot in an empty gym!

    Gerald, you really need to stop! You cant write his ‘questionable attitude’ as scaring you and then say he is better now when he isnt because he had run ins with his coach last season as well, when he was taking those ugly jumpers!

    Plus you gave reasons for not selecting Josh in your argument – he’s lazier than Wallace and he has a bad attitude. Also, SLENDER?! Really, dude that just sounds gay!

  • Ian

    Wallace slightly better defender imo and way better on offense.

  • TJ

    Wallace is injury prone and Smith is a headcase. I’d take Wallace and hope for the best.

  • Dee

    Smith makes the “WOW” play, but Wallace makes the “RIGHT” play. Give me Wallace any day, never takes plays off.

  • Marlo Intellect

    Austin – I appreciate your point but how is Ray Allen and Kobe close?

    Kobe and LeBron is close. Kobe and D-Wade is close. Hell, you could even say Kobe and Paul Pierce is close. But 100 times out of 100, people would take Kobe over Ray Allen. That is not close. AT ALL. Whether Kobe drops 35-40 on Jesus everytime they play is irrelevant, the fact is Kobe if you were picking a 2 for your team, you’d pick Kobe over Ray, STANDARDLY.

  • Bron42 aka Had Springs before slamball

    Wallace only gets injured cuz he hauls ass every play, it’s not like he’s Shaun Livingston. I’d take crash.

  • Joross

    I usually take or trade for g wallace on my team in nba 2k association…because he’s that good and versitile

  • B Carroll

    Come on man, give Ray some credit here. Ray is a better 3 point shooter, with a quicker release and is automatic from the free throw line. He doesn’t need the ball in his hands to be effective as he runs through screens better than any player outside of Rip.
    As great as Kobe is, there are certain situations where Ray would fit into a system better than Kobe. I’m not saying this would be a common occurrence but give the man some credit, 100 out of 100 times is a little harsh, maybe more like 90 out of 100.

  • Taj

    Tough one but I gotta go with Crash.. He puts in work night in and night out and is a stat sheet stuffer. JSmoove is nice too but can be very inconsistent with his production.

  • Promoman

    Gerald Wallace wins this one. He’s better all-around and is the better shooter even though that’s not saying much.

  • F.L.A.S.H.

    smith, u won’t find players seeing the bobcats on the schedule the next day and have nightmares about gerald wallace

  • F.L.A.S.H.

    and yes, Kobe over Ray, it’s not even close, you should consider a new profession Mr. Burton

  • sh!tfaced

    Crash. Better all-around game. Better outside shot. Better bball IQ.

  • Amos

    are we serious about this one. what does Gerald wallace have on Josh Smith. Smith is out of high school is a prime time player…People love to come see Josh..nobody is hyped to see Gerald. and Gerald hasn’t even won anything. neither has Josh..but Josh is prime time!

  • K Dizzle

    lol @ “and Gerald hasn’t even won anything. neither has Josh…”

    I try to get em both on all my fantasy teams cuz they do everything, both versatile, both play d….too close to call

  • J Nice

    Gerald shows up every night… and is a team player.. Smith is just a junk yard dog on a streak right now

  • Ian

    damn 100 outta 100 might say kobe over wade also when austin said close he meant each person individually might see some things allen is better at even if they pick kobe at the end. CLOSE DOESNT MEAN OVERALL VOTES.

  • http://dimemag.com Austin Burton

    @Ian — Glad you got my point. Roy Jones might beat Bernard Hopkins every time they fight, but if it’s a close fight, it means they are close in skill level. Kobe and Ray have had battles when they play each other; in fact, Ray outplayed Kobe in the 08 Finals. Therefore, they are close to each other, even if Kobe would won the “Who would you take?” argument every time.

  • guti

    i’d take hopkins after last night for the record

  • http://uoregon.edu sans

    DIME, what is up with your main page, I can’t get it to load on any computer…I am glad that you have the scrolls on the side…

    Oh, when I play as the Hawks, Smoove is my primary scorer–it’s so easy–not that video games are the best examples…and Smoove would match Wallace in rebounds if he saw the court as much as Crash…no mention of how injury prone Wallace is?…for that alone I take Smoove…close though, much closer than the Kobe/Shuttlesworth debate…

  • http://uoregon.edu sans

    Hopkins over Roy Jones, Jr. in his prime?…Really?…

  • guti

    i didnt think we were rolling out the ‘in their prime’ arguments?

    otherwise smoove definitely takes it because he is still young enough to sort out a decent j.

    rjj in his prime over anyone

  • Doug

    ian backing up ashton burton’s nonsense even with that weak explanation that shit is retarded ray allen and kobe close,ray allen out played kobe in the finals?lmao yall are on some shit paul pierce & james posey won that shit for them.

  • MSkittle

    Austin, it’s not even close! haha Josh Smith is so much more versatile. Snith is the better player.

  • Ekstor

    In his prime, NO ONE could touch Roy Jones Jr!

  • Diego

    Josh Smith–today. Folks, he does come to play every day and this year his jacking and his passes into the stands have disappeared. I used to be pretty impressed with Crash, but I view him these days kind of as one of those “potential” type guy–not on the level of a Tim Thomas or Stromile Swift–, but still a guy who won’t live up to potential. And before you know it, career is over.

    Smoove is a nightmare match-up on offense and defense (in the latter case, he easily has the size to make life rough on opposing power forwards).

  • Diego

    And AB, I wouldn’t call Wallace or Smith a “role player.” These 2 guys are borderline all-stars–with nice stats in several categories! How the hell do you define a “role player”? Someone who is not an all-star? Someone who is not the best player on his team? (Although Wallace is the top dog on his team–so he damn well has to produce.)

    I’d say a guy that basically just contributes 1 or 2 things, typically on a limited basis, is: Historically, e.g., a Steve Kerr for the Bulls; a hustling Rambis for the Lakers; point jacking Earl Boykins; Diop when he was with Dallas. Okay, Rodman was a role player and an allstar, but his role truly was limited–rebounds and defense, so he is a bit of an exception to my rule.

  • http://www.twitter.com/bfears bfears

    josh smith hands dwn

  • g-force

    g-force doesn’t make a lame ass argument. u should’ve watched him kicking lebron’s ass( who is also a great player). FYI bobcats didn’t score a field goal in the last 9 min and still won 97-84 or 94-87.