I've gotta be honest...Craig Smith probably wouldn't have been my first choice of Wolves players to preview for this upcoming season. He does the dirty work...and we all value the superstars over the cleanup crew, right?
Well, with that said, Craiggers deserves some serious respect.
A scene at last week's Wolves/Bucks game really impressed me- Craig was matched up against Yi Jianlian. Yi happens to be five inches taller than Craig. Despite the height disparity, though, Craig absolutely manhandled Yi...Craig did a phenomenal job of boxing out Yi, and his defensive effort against the rookie was spectacular.
Welcome to the NBA, Yi Jianlian. You just got eaten alive by the Cookie Monster.
Entering his second year in the league, it's already clear that Craig was a fantastic pick at 36th overall in the 2006 NBA Draft. Is he on the short side for his position? Yeah. Does he have the skillset that the superstars at power forward have? Nope. Despite these flaws, though, Craig is an invaluable piece of the Timberwolves roster.
I don't know how he does it, but Craig always seems to be in exactly the right place at the right time. Especially on the offensive boards...Craig is in the perfect position for offensive rebounds so frequently throughout the course of a match, that it's obvious he has an intuition for basketball that most other players can only dream of.
Not only does Craig make a great impact on the offensive boards, but he doesn't take a lot of bad shots (although he doesn't have much of a range, to say the least), and he is extremely powerful on the low block. Great upper body strength, for sure.
Most importantly, though, he has heart. He wants to improve. He's a hard worker on the defensive end of the floor, and can hold his own against guys that have a considerable height advantage over him. And I'd bet that as he gains more experience in the NBA, he'll emerge as a clubhouse leader.
What are Craig's flaws? Well, as mentioned, the obvious ones are his physical limitations...he's only 6'7", and some commentators say he's a bit pudgy. I certainly noticed his tendency to get into foul trouble last season, he's pretty ineffective outside of the low-post on offense, and he shot a paltry 62% from the free throw line in his rookie campaign. Also, let's just say that he shouldn't be handling the ball too much.
But that's what makes Craig so special. Despite his shortcomings, he's a guy who the Wolves should be keeping around for many seasons to come.
This year, I'm hoping to see Craig make a greater impact on the defensive boards...the Wolves will need to compensate for the lost rebounding brought about by the KG trade. Gomsey and Big Al will certainly help recoup much of that rebounding, but I'm looking for Craig to step up his efforts, as well. I'm also looking forward to Craig receiving a sizable increase in minutes. Last year, Witt gave Craiggers 18.7 minutes per game, and the man deserves more playing time than that!
There may not be a big market for Craig Smith jerseys. Or posters. Or bobbleheads But the Cookie Monster is undoubtedly becoming a fan-favorite in the Twin Cities.