Dissecting the limitations and possibilities of a Josh Smith-Greg Monroe-Andre Drummond front line


Josh Smith is a fascinating player, bringing both excitement and disappointment within the same game. Heck, within the same play.

On one possession, he is attacking the defense and finishing directly at the rim. And then, perhaps on the next trip down the floor he will take a slightly sophisticated offensive play and turn it into this:

The above video says something about both Smith and the defense he faced. That footage is from the 2013 playoffs against arguably the best defense in the league: the Indiana Pacers.

The Atlanta Hawks ran some screen action coupled with some cuts to create some type of confusion on the Pacers’ front with the hope that Paul George might go over the screen. That would have given Smith a driving lane to the hoop.

However, George was smart enough to go underneath the screen and concede the open long 2-point jumper. Per Hoopdata, Smith hits that shot at a 33 percent clip. Just so we’re clear, that’s not good.

The next bit of info might scare Pistons’ fans: Smith attempted 334 field goals from mid-range (anything outside of the paint and inside the 3-point line) during the 2012-13 season and converted 30.5 percent of them.

For perspective, the notoriously trigger-happy Monta Ellis made a much higher percentage of his mid-range shots (36.2 percent). Because the Pistons are not exactly great at spacing the floor with perimeter shooters, fans might worry that Smith will continue to float on the perimeter and take jumpers.

But a small reality check is in order. Smith, despite taking the 19th-most shots in the NBA last season, didn’t even crack the top-40 for mid-range attempts. He actually managed 447 shots in the restricted area, per NBA.com/stats.

That last figure is important. Smith was in the top-20 in shots in the restricted area in 2012-13, and Greg Monroe led the league. They will now be playing together in tandem, which comes with some very intriguing possibilities.

Maurice Cheeks will have to devise some creative ways to get Monroe, Smith and Andre Drummond each looks directly at the basket. Because the Pistons aren’t a great shooting team, there are concerns about the feasibility of it all.

But there is hope.

Smith is an incredibly talented forward who possesses a wide array of skills. He is a decent ball handler and good passer from multiple spots on the court. As a result, he will be able to create shots for himself and teammates simply by his presence on the floor.

Both he and Monroe should act as hubs in the offense.

Smith can handle the ball in the pick-and-roll. Though Detroit should not get too enamored with that possibility – according to Synergy Sports, Smith turned the ball over on roughly a third of his pick-and-rolls as the ball handler and he converted 36.8 percent of his shots in this setting – it’s a good option  just to give defenses a different look and also set them up for a little misdirection. Because Smith understands defensive concepts and player tendencies, he can make plays with his passing in the high-post.

Watch this video:

Al Horford fakes as if he is going to run a pick-and-roll at the elbow with Smith, but instead, Horford slips the screen and dives straight to the hoop for a catch and finish.

Good-passing big men open up the floor for teammates, and  either Monroe or Drummond can substitute for Horford in the above set. The beauty of Smith and Monroe though is their ability to reverse roles given their respective skill sets.

Monroe is also quite an adept passer and consequently there is enormous value in playing both big men near the elbows as opposed to the traditional high-low look. Look at the sweet play the Hawks run for Smith with Horford acting as the release point that makes it all happen:

The Piston offense has the potential to be above average – maybe even good – after ranking in the league’s bottom third last season.

Smith gives the Pistons a new dimension they didn’t have previously. Although there are concerns about his fit alongside Drummond, that may end up being overblown.

Drummond is fairly raw offensively and was quite content last season with doing basic things such as attacking the offensive glass, setting screens and cutting. By keeping things simple, Drummond averaged 13.8 points and 13.2 rebounds per 36 minutes.

Synergy Sports tells us the majority of his scoring came from offensive rebounds and cuts. The reason for that is simple: The 19-year-old always got himself near the basket no matter what.

Drummond never stood still. Instead, he opted to consistently get himself near the basket, where he is a lethal finisher. When the Pistons’ offense broke down with him on the floor, he had a knack for ending up with the ball near the hoop simply because he never stopped moving.

Look at the possession below:

The play results in Drummond catching the ball heading towards the basket and finishing despite the fact the play was not supposed to initially go to him. Detroit will occasionally struggle with their spacing, but provided they maintain some offensive discipline and remain in constant movement, the potential is there for a good offense with Smith on board.

Tags: Andre Drummond Atlanta Hawks Greg Monroe Indiana Pacers Josh Smith Maurice Cheeks Monta Ellis THN-ATL