Josh Smith the key tonight and for remainder of season?


  • Teams: Detroit Pistons (16-23) at Washington Wizards (19-19)
  • Date: January 18, 2014
  • Time: 7:00 p.m.
  • Television: FSD Plus

What to look for

Josh Smith will determine the short-term future of the Detroit Pistons. This is not to suggest that the former Atlanta Hawk is the best player on the team (could argue he is though) but rather that the way he gets used will determine what kind of team the Pistons will become.

At present time, Detroit is bad. Part of that stems from the fact that Smith has been taken completely outside of his comfort zone. To be fair, the team is not sub-.500 solely because Smith has been inconsistent.

Rather, the way he has been used has resulted in some of his shortcomings and consequently, one can understand that the inability to properly utilize him has trickled down to the remainder of the roster.

The most glaring issue with Smith is his position. The southpaw started out his career as a small forward but transitioned to power forward where he flourished. Smith is a bit like Shawn Marion in his prime with the Phoenix Suns: He is simply too quick and explosive for most big forwards and it allows him beat them off the dribble and in the low post.

In his final three seasons in Atlanta, Smith played 77 percent of his minutes at the four and posted a PER of 19.3 from 2010-11 to 2012-13 according to Basketball-Reference.

However, his advantages are nullified at the small forward position, especially on a team that lacks spacing and great ball movement. Indeed, Smith is playing 53.4 percent of his minutes this season alongside Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond per In related news, his PER has never been lower.

In a scheme that highlighted the highflyer’s skills, his position would not necessarily matter. However, the Pistons have simply not built a roster that is tailored to his strengths or those of his teammates for that matter.

Indeed, Smith is a good high-low passer and operates well in the pick-and-roll both as a finisher and creator. He is at his best in this setting when there is some type of movement or screen action on the weak side of the floor that is occurring simultaneously.

This typically allows the lefty to throw passes on the move to a big man that can finish directly at the basket without much difficulty. In the event Smith is the one rolling to the hoop, he gets a chance to score over a defender that is late rotating.

Mind you, that has not been exactly the case in Detroit. Have a look below:

That video illustrates why it is that Smith is only converting 28.3 percent (!) of his shots as the roll man in the pick-and-roll according to Synergy Sports. There is simply a clear lack of sophistication in the offense and in turn, the players are suffering from it.

It’s worth noting, the presence of veteran players also helps whenever the offense stagnates. There are guys that just have a great knack for spreading the floor and finding ways to bend defenses. Think of Danny Green with the San Antonio Spurs, Shane Battier of the Miami Heat and Wesley Matthews of the Portland Trail Blazers to name a few.

Watch the video below of Matthews nailing a 3-pointer:

Once the ball swings to LaMarcus Aldridge, Matthews realizes that his man has to rotate to LMA. As a result, he quickly fades to the corner to create a huge amount of distance between he and Richard Jefferson. From there, it’s just a matter of Aldridge feeding him the ball for the open trey.

The Pistons have not yet developed that level of chemistry because the mix itself is relatively new. Nonetheless, Detroit must accentuate its strengths by running sets that actually benefit their players.

The Washington Wizards are not a great team by any stretch of the imagination, however they have taken their lumps and slowly begun doing things that puts players in a position to succeed.

It’s part of the reason that Washington has collected wins in two of the three matchups with the Pistons.

Rome was not built in one day, but it’s safe to say that after a little over two months, one had an idea of the ground the city would cover. As it pertains to Detroit, we are still not sure.

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