Although his season in general has been full of energizing moments and inspiring play, Greg Smith had his coming-out party Tuesday night against the Lakers. It hasn't been an easy path to glory for the big man.
The second-year man from Fresno State spent most of his rookie season with the Rockets' D-League affiliate in Rio Grande Valley, where he averaged 16.6 points and 7.8 rebounds in 26 games. Smith got into eight games with the Rockets last season and, in limited minutes, averaged 1.8 points and 2.5 rebounds.
That's what made Tuesday remarkable. He was facing a Lakers big man crew that included Dwight Howard. Smith had just set his previous career high in points with 13 the game before against Utah, but completely blew that out of the water with 21 points against the Lake Show to go along with nine rebounds.
And most of his big plays came in the game's biggest moments.
"It's a great feeling," Smith said. "I knew I always had it in me, but to just see it on the court, and to watch the highlights, and to see how it translates, all the work I put in is coming out. It feels good. It's a good feeling, all the work I put in in the summer, last year and before that. It's paying off."
Smith says he's learned a lot from last year to this season and that main thing he's picked up is how to be a professional.
"Doing workouts, lifting weights, stretching, eating healthy, and that transitions on to the court," he said. "You go out there, you have more wind, you play faster, quicker for a longer period of time, and I learned that last year from all the veterans like Marcus Camby, Sam Dalembert, and Luis Scola. And this year, I'm taking it upon myself and doing my thing."
"I love Greg," said Kelvin Sampson, the Rockets' acting head coach. "Coaches aren't supposed to have favorites, but you always do. Since Day 1, I've taken a special liking to him. I just like him as a kid, (he's) very easy to coach, wants to do well, he wants to please."
Sampson said after Tuesday night's game how Smith is "country-ox strong." So it's no surprise he thinks Smith is built for the NBA game.
"He's got a knack," Sampson said. "He's got that strong body. He's got hands the size of snowshoes. He's got quick feet. He's a smart kid.
"He knows how to play the game of basketball."
Part of this intelligence has been used in Smith's development. Sampson says Smith's biggest improvement has come in learning to decipher the different angles used by NBA players to set screens and how to pick up defensive pick 'n roll coverages. Sampson also says Smith has improved a lot in his ability to pin and seal so that when he does get the ball, he's in a better position to score right away.
"There's something about Greg," Sampson said. "I coached him in the Summer League. I mentioned last night, everybody went Merry Christmas about the other guys we had about how they scored the ball.
"Greg, there's nothing sexy about his game. Sometimes you have to be a coach to appreciate what he does every day and I'm glad that fans got to see how good he can be."