3-on-3: Almost-midseason grades for Josh Smith, Brandon Jennings and Andre Drummond

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Modeled after ESPN’s 5-on-5, three of us will answer three questions about a Pistons-related topic. Please add your responses in the comments.

1. The Pistons made the biggest splash in free agency this summer when they inked Josh Smith to a 4-year, $54 million contract. Needless to say, he’s yet to live up to that deal, so how does he grade out at the almost-midway point?

Dan Feldman: If it seems Smith is shooting more often from the perimeter, it’s only because 3-pointers have their own column in the box score, and long 2s don’t. Smith is wisely trading long 2s for 3s, and that has helped his efficiency from outside. It’s still abysmal, though — to the point Smith’s jumpers undermine his offensive game. Smith has been miscast defensively, struggling to chase small forwards around the perimeter. When defending the paint or wings who don’t chase opponents off screens all game, he’s excelled. GRADE: C-

Patrick Hayes:  Switching positions and playing in an often directionless offensive system hasn’t really set Smith up for success. But he’s also too talented a player to consistently and willingly take (and miss) as many poor shots as he does. I wasn’t expecting his offense to be great though — he’s always been a feast or famine type of offensive player. I was expecting him to be the anchor of a good, young defense, and that hasn’t materialized. That’s not all on Smith, but as the biggest free agent signing in team history, his performance has been underwhelming. GRADE: D+

Brady Fredericksen: Well, um, I’m not sure if there’s a nice way to say this, but Smith has been… mediocre. Yeah, I’m not quite on the he-is-the-worst-player-ever bandwagon, but there’s definitely been plenty of ugliness from Smith so far. He’s overtaken Will Bynum as the long-2 shooter that makes me audibly groan — which I wasn’t sure was possible — and while he looks comfortable playing small forward and hoisting 3-pointers, he surely doesn’t play that way. I think the recent move to get the majority of his minutes at power forward is going to be a really, really beneficial move for this team’s success here and now on both offense and defense. GRADE: C-

2. Prior to the offseason trade for Brandon Jennings, the Pistons hadn’t gotten much play from a real NBA point guard since Chauncey Billups left town. The results have been mixed so far, but how do you grade Jennings at this point?

Dan Feldman: Jennings is still finding finding his way as a pass-first (or at least pass-more-often) point guard. He’s averaging a career-high 8.5 assists per game, but also a career-high 3.3 turnovers per game. His assist-to-turnover ratio is a career-best, so that’s at least an encouraging sign. But there’s little encouraging about Jennings’ 3-point shooting, a below-his-career-average 34 percent, including 25 percent on spot-ups, according to MySynergySports. With Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond drawing focus to the interior, Jennings must shoot better from the perimeter. Jennings has defended a little better this season, leading the Pistons in steals per game, but when not gambling, he doesn’t accomplish much on that end. GRADE: C+

Patrick Hayes: Zach Lowe described Jennings defensive improvements as “going from “comatose” to “generally aware of his surroundings.” Jennings has had exciting moments this season, and he’s made efforts to improve as a distributor (though that has come at the expense of his shooting percentages), but doesn’t “exciting moments” mixed in with forgettable play pretty much describe what everyone who has followed Jennings closely throughout his career already knew about him? He’s basically the same guy he’s always been, with a few minor tweaks. That’s an upgrade over Brandon Knight, and that’s worth something, but it’s also not super impressive. GRADE: C

Brady Fredericksen: I’m gonna be honest — Jennings has been better than I expected. He’s trying to be a distributor, perhaps too hard at times, but he’s looking more and more comfortable in that role. I don’t think he has the ability to be the kind of commanding leader late in a game that most great teams have, but he’s definitely been in that above-average group of guards so far. Can you argue that he’s played at an All-Star level in the East? Sure, he’s No. 4 in scoring, No. 2 in assists, No. 5 in steals and No. 2 in double-doubles. He won’t be one — I know, I know, he’s shooting a horrid percentage — I’m just pointing out that he’s been decent. Now, I won’t bore you with how bad his defense or fourth-quarter play has been, but you could do a heckuva lot worse at this point. GRADE: C

3. It’s no secret that Andre Drummond is a big reason for the Pistons’ successes this season. He’s also been the most fun player Detroit’s seen in awhile. What grade does the 20-year-old earn thus far?

Dan Feldman: Are we grading Drummond as a starting center? He’s one of the NBA’s best. Are we grading Drummond as a 20-year-old? By that standard, he’s historically good. Are we grading him as a franchise player who should be leading his team to a winning record? He’d fall short, though the potential is there. But it’s to soon to ask so much of Drummond, and it’s really a credit to him that some fans have their bar set so high. GRADE: A

Patrick Hayes: Drummond has exceeded every possible expectation by so much already in his career, that it’s silly to even bother recapping it. As a 20-year-old who is already one of the best and most productive centers in the league despite the fact that he’s still kind of lost on offense and defense a significant part of the time is incredible. Imagine what he will be when he has a better grasp on his role at both ends of the court? Scary. In the mean time, he’s still the team’s best player by a mile. GRADE: A

Brady Fredericksen: Drummond has been the best player on the team this year, and it’s not even close. He’s still got so far to go before he’s a finished product, but if this is the kind of player he is at 20, than he’s only going to get better. Rarely does he have a play run for him, and somehow he comes up with 12 points a night. Who knows how the Pistons offense will look as they continue to tweak it, but the team is 10-11 when Drummond takes 10-or-more shots. GRADE: A-

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Tags: Andre Drummond Brandon Jennings Chauncey Billups Josh Smith

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