Why Ish Smith is important to the Detroit Pistons’ defense

Ish Smith is not known as a good defender, but he’s contributed to the Detroit Pistons’ excellent defense through good decision-making on the offensive end.

The Detroit Pistons have put forth some defensive numbers that nobody expected this season. When Reggie Jackson was ruled out for the first six weeks of the season, Ish Smith was moved into the starting lineup at point guard.

Smith has never been regarded as strong on the defensive end, so it was expected that the Pistons might take a step back on both the offensive and the defensive side of the ball. In spite of the fact that Smith’s own defensive prowess is far from elite, he’s been able to make remarkable contributions to that end of the court.

So far this season Ish Smith has posted a defensive rating of 101.6 while playing 28.6 minutes per game. That’s no longer a flash in the pan, that’s a legitimate sample.

It shows through in the Pistons’ overall numbers as they have the third-best defensive rating in the NBA with a d-rating of 100.4 points per 100 possessions.

With Smith never being a defensive standout, how has he been able to quarterback a responsible Piston defense?

It turns out that the old cliche is true in this case, the best defense is a good offense. Or at least a responsible, good decision-making offense.

Ish Smith’s biggest contribution to the Detroit Pistons’ defense is the fact that he almost never puts that defense in a bad position in transition, protecting the ball better than almost any player in the NBA who gets regular minutes and average usage or better.

With a usage rate of 19.3 percent, Smith turns the ball over just 7.13 times per 100 possessions.

The effect that has on the defensive side of the ball is tremendous. While most offenses score in the 0.9 points per possession range in the halfcourt, it’s in transition that offenses put up big numbers. In most cases, defenses are at the mercy of transition offense, meaning the only way to truly shut it down is to not give them opportunities to get out and run via the fast break.

No team is better than the Pistons at eliminating fast break opportunities or points scored off them. The Pistons have allowed just .987 points per possession to their opponents on the fast break, which is the best mark in the NBA.

While Reggie Jackson brings a level of offensive dynamism that Ish Smith can’t, the kind of offensive responsibility that Smith brings is a great tradeoff when Jackson hits the bench for rest.