Apr 2, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Detroit Pistons forward Josh Smith (6) reacts during the first quarter against the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

Stan Van Gundy's biggest challenge? Fixing Josh Smith.

Like it or not, it looks like Josh Smith will open the season with the Pistons.

Not to say that means Smith finishes the season with Detroit, but it’s unlikely the Pistons send away the talented-yet-ill-fitting forward for whatever another team has in the back of the fridge. I’m probably in the minority on this, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. Smith is a talented player — and the Pistons haven’t had many of those in recent years.

More importantly, Stan Van Gundy is a good coach, and the Pistons haven’t had any of those in recent years. If Smith is going to be playing for the Pistons, Van Gundy will have to figure out how to avoid the dumpster fire version that the league saw last season. Smith is the easy target, the fan’s No. 1 scapegoat for last season’s failure.

Let’s figure out what Van Gundy can get out of the talented enigma to help the Pistons win. We can call it WWSVGD — What Would Stan Van Gundy Do?

SCORING? Detroit was 11-13 when Smith scored 15+ points.

  • The Pistons went 10-10 when Smith’s field goal percentage was at or above his career mark of 45.9 percent.
  • When Smith shot three or more 3-pointers, the Pistons went 14-16.
  • Detroit went a comical 4-15 when Smith shot the ball 20-plus times.

This is probably obviously the least surprising aspect of this evaluation. Smith’s skill set is extremely diverse, but is not conducive to high-volume shooting or scoring.

That’s not something that changed in Detroit — Smith’s never been good like that — but thanks to poor coaching and poor decision making, it became a bloody, horrible reality this season.

It’s easy to blame the ineptitude of Maurice Cheeks and John Loyer (deservedly so) but Smith’s awful season wasn’t all on them. It’s a two-way street, and Smith’s delusional mentality definitely played a part, too.

When Smith was an effective scorer like he was in his Atlanta days, the Pistons were an average team. The problem is that only happened in a quarter of Smith’s games. Perhaps the best stat of all is the volume shooting. It’s not a shock that the Pistons were bad when Smith shot the ball 20-plus times.

It is, however, revealing that Smith channeled his inner-chucker against the best teams. Fifteen of those 20-plus shot games came against playoff teams. The Pistons went 2-13. Perhaps Smith was trying to prove a point against the NBA’s best.

My bet is that it was less coincidental and more intentional strategy that good coaches utilized against the Pistons.

PASSING? Detroit was 8-8 when Smith recorded 5+ assists.

  • Smith had 5-plus turnovers in five of those games (1-4 record).
  • Detroit was 12-16 when he had 3-plus turnovers (averaged 2.6 per game).

Ah, what a novel idea; pass up some of those shots to create for others. This was always my issue. Smith is a very good passer for a big man, but that was a skill that the Pistons coaching staff hardly utilized.

Maybe that’s due to the fact that Smith’s limitations on the perimeter as a ball handler made it difficult to create for others? Maybe it was because he was too busy hoisting jumpers? I really don’t know, but when he was distributing and creating for others, the Pistons weren’t bad.

Assists are a fickle statistic, though. We don’t know if Smith passed the ball more in these games or if the guys he was passing it to just made more shots.

 

REBOUNDING? Detroit was 3-7 when Smith had 10+ rebounds.

  • For context, the Pistons were just 3-3 when Andre Drummond went for 18-plus points and 20-plus boards.
  • My point? Individual rebounding doesn’t always equate to wins.

Yikes. In defense of Smith, this statistical example is a bit deceiving. Greg Monroe and Drummond are better rebounders and players than Smith. When all three played together, Smith wasn’t in position to rebound like he would be at power forward with a traditional small forward. According to 82games, Smith averaged 11.5 rebounds per 48 minutes when he was playing at power forward.

THE IDEA? Create Josh Smith, super sub.

Easier said than done, of course. You’d have to hope living through not only the worst season of his career, but also one of the most futile seasons in NBA history, will serve as a humbling moment for Smith.

I’m sure Smith has something of an ego — all NBA players do — but his individual struggles, combined with the team’s struggles, had to knock a guy used to winning down a notch or two.

The biggest hope might be that being coached by Van Gundy, easily the best coach Smith has played for, will serve as a mid-career mulligan. My argument is that if anyone is going to figure out how to accentuate the good Smith has to offer, it’s a coach like Van Gundy.

If his ego has taken a big enough hit and Van Gundy can do a good enough job convincing him that playing alongside Drummond and Monroe isn’t helping anyone, you might have something. Who knows if Smith would be willing to make that sacrifice? Surely none of us do.

But the Pistons went 7-7 when Smith recorded 10+ points, 5+ rebounds and 5+ assists. Those are steep averages considering only 13 players did that this past season, but is it inconceivable? I don’t think so.

Smith has averaged four assists per game before with Atlanta, and if he is only taking 8-10 shots instead of 14-16 shots while playing with a Pistons bench filled with floor spacers, he could serve as a nice mid-to-low post centerpiece when the bench is out there.

This isn’t a matter of skill or ability, it’s a matter of mentality and ego. It’s hard to argue against a three-big rotation with Smith as the versatile third big; not to mention his skill set would jive well with the Pistons current bench.

Maybe an off-the-bench Smith could push himself by attempting to capture an individual honor like Sixth Man of the Year? That caliber of a season would likely help to push the Pistons back into the postseason. Maybe, even at $14 million a year, that ends up being the perfect role for Smith in Detroit.

Or maybe that kind of role works for a month or two, serves as enough reason to convince another team that Smith has changed and trading for him is their answer?

Anything would be better than last season, right?

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Tags: Andre Drummond Greg Monroe Josh Smith Stan Van Gundy

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