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Three Stars of the Night: Justified Jumpers

Jan 2, 2013, 3:18 AM EDT

Hawks forward Smith reacts after a shot in the first half during their game against the Celtics in Game One of their NBA Eastern Conference Playoffs basketball game in Atlanta Reuters

Play enough basketball and chances are you’ll run into a player who likes to justify his relentless jump shooting with a catchy phrase like, “you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take” or “there’s a reason it’s called feeling it instead of thinking it” or maybe “I was open.” These people, of course, are the worst. But when they do catch fire, you kind of have to laugh and just take the points.

Now, I’m not insinuating our Three Stars are relentless jump shooters, or bad jump shooters, or chuckers of any sort. That’s wrong. It’s just sometimes their shot selection when they start to feel it can be a little…questionable? Tonight though, with the shots falling, we can appreciate a good “no..no..no…YES!” bucket just like everyone else. To the stars:

Third Star: Jrue Holiday – (26 points, 10 assists)

It’s not tough to torch the Lakers backcourt these days. Whether it’s due to their inexperience (Darius Morris), too much experience and creakiness (Steve Nash) or energy and attention being devoted elsewhere (Kobe Bryant), they tend to let up a lot of points. But let’s not discount the effort Jrue Holiday showed — he’s a guy who is quickly becoming one of the most prolific and efficient isolation scorers in basketball. The 76ers pretty much run everything through Holiday, and he’s responded by scoring off his own dribble quite often, usually on tough pull-up jumpers. Holiday’s drive right down the middle of the paint late in the game, when the Lakers once again failed to foul in a situation they very obviously needed to foul in, served as the dagger and a nice cap to a night where he displayed some really nice scoring instincts. Holiday is a legitimate Most Improved Player candidate this year — he’s made a huge jump from last year.

Second Star: Carmelo Anthony – (45 points, 14-for-24 shooting)

There was obviously a lot of concern with how Carmelo Anthony would play in Amar’e Stoudemire’s first game back…but so far, so good! Anthony started off ridiculously hot from the outside, as he’s done quite a bit this year, and looked every bit as comfortable as he has all season. With no help from New York’s typically sweet shooting role players, Melo really took the load and carried the day offensively with a season-high 45 points. It will be interesting to see how he works with Stoudemire going forward, but since Anthony has played with so much confidence and aggression all year, it’s hard to imagine his numbers suffering much. Losing to Portland at home is a bad, bad loss, but Anthony scoring nearly half of his team’s points on only 24 attempts is pretty impressive.

First Star: Josh Smith – (23 points, 13 rebounds, 7 assists, 4 steals, 3 blocks)

As you may already know, Josh Smith is not a very good spot-up shooter. It’s his one real blind spot in an otherwise pretty complete offensive game. Smith actually knocked down a few spot-up attempts tonight, which can sometimes cause more harm than good, but he didn’t let it deter his real value as a slasher and as a creator on a night his guards couldn’t get it going offensively. Smith showed the frontcourt chemistry with Al Horford that New Orleans is trying to develop with Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson, but the Hawks’ duo benefitted from the familiarity that comes from all the years next to each other. I’m not sure what the ideal center next to Smith looks like since his skill-set is so varied, but Horford sure seems like a perfect match. Very quietly, Atlanta is a team to watch in the Eastern Conference now that they’re off the treadmill of good, but not great. This team has some sneaky sleeper appeal, especially when Smith is doing it all on both ends.

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