ATLANTA There's rarely a day that passes where there isn't a story out there about an NBA player beefing with his head coach, having a run-in with a teammate or some other knuckle-head like act being committed.
For years, Atlanta's Josh Smith was among the players you could lump into that category.
But this season, the 27-year-old is showing the kind of growth and maturity on and off the court that has helped elevate the Hawks' status and his stature as a leader.
Smith comes into tonight's game against the Celtics averaging 17 points, 8.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.45 steals. In addition to stuffing the stat sheet with all those numbers, the 6-foot-9 Smith is also averaging 2.31 blocks per game which ranks sixth in the NBA.
He is the only player in the top-10 blocked shots leaders who is under 6-10.
"Numbers-wise, he's an all-star," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "From what I know, he just seems like he's been a leader, a positive influence on the team. No emotional hijacks, he's been phenomenal for their team."
Smith evolving into a leader is in some ways similar to that of Boston's Rajon Rondo, Smith's former teammate at Oak Hill Academy.
"I think we still forget he (Smith) was young when he came to the league," said Rivers, referring to Smith being 18 years old when the Hawks drafted the Georgia native with the No. 17 overall pick in the 2004 NBA draft. "It takes time. Not only the basketball part, but your maturity and your leadership and all that. So it looks like he's getting it."
And while Rivers agrees that there are similarities in the maturation of Smith and Rondo, he's convinced that the road Rondo has had to go has been tougher.
"Rondo's the point guard of the team, a team that has not just Hall of Famers, but HALL OF FAMERS!" Rivers said. "You're talking about Paul (Pierce), Kevin (Garnett) and (former Celtic) Ray (Allen) and you're the guy that has to tell them, 'no you can't have the ball this time.' That's hard for someone, anyone. I just think it's a little different. But in a lot of ways it's the same with their youth."