The Detroit Pistons certainly made a splash when they agreed to terms with Josh Smith on a four-year deal worth $56 million on July 6, but both team and player are going to have to prove they're ready to put their pasts behind them if the big move is going to be a successful one.
J-Smoove and Those Pesky Jumpers
For Smith, the key will be proving he's willing to exchange the shots he wants to take for the ones he should be taking.
This is probably an unnecessary explanation these days, but it's worth mentioning that virtually every NBA defense considers it a win when its opponent takes a long two-point shot. The numbers show that those attempts have the lowest expected point value, and entire modern schemes are dedicated to forcing offenses to survive on a diet of those kind of low-percentage looks.
And as everyone who has watched Smith play at any point in his career knows, those shots—the ones universally regarded as the very worst in basketball—are exactly the kinds of shots he likes.
Here's a good synopsis of the problems Smith has, and the changes he must make in the immediate future, per Kevin Pelton of ESPN (subscription required):
Smith needs to cut out the long 2-pointers he attempts, because his accuracy from 16-23 feet (32.4 percent in 2012-13, per Basketball-Reference.com) is little better than from beyond the arc (30.3 percent), where the extra point at least makes his effective percentage acceptable. Yet Smith attempted more long 2s (281) than 3s (201) last season.
Solving Smith's problems won't be quite as simple as asking him to take a step back behind the line before he casts away—although that might help.
Instead, it'll be much more complicated. Smith is going to have to prove he's willing to buy into a system (assuming the Pistons have one) and is willing to subjugate his own personal desires for the good of the team.
That means staying engaged all of the time, rather than when he feels like it. And it also means cutting down on his maddening habit of hoisting jumpers off the dribble.
The talent has always been there, but the willingness to play within a system certainly hasn't. If Smith can somehow mature during the middle part of his career in a way that he couldn't as a young player, it could make for Smoover sailing in Detroit.
See what I did there? Sorry, let's just move on.
The Piston Plan
The Pistons have been adrift since they enjoyed something of a renaissance during their mid-2000s run.
In 2009, general manager Joe Dumars blew $90 million on the uninspiring duo of Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon. At the time, just about everyone in the league knew those contracts were a mistake, but the truth is they turned out to be even worse than expected.
So perhaps the biggest thing the Pistons must prove is that they haven't repeated the mistake of spending available cap money on the biggest names who would listen. Admittedly, signing Smith certainly feels eerily similar to those ill-fated 2009 deals.
But Smith is a far better player than either Villanueva or Gordon ever were, so at the very least, Dumars has blown his money on superior talent this time around.
Still, avoiding another few years of below-average play is going to depend on the way the Pistons organize themselves to best utilize the talent on the roster. With the roster as currently composed, it's awfully difficult to envision Smith, Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe all getting fair opportunities to succeed.
Smith is best utilized as an undersized power forward, but slotting him there means that either Drummond or Monroe will ride the pine.
So perhaps one of the most difficult things the Pistons will have to prove is that they're willing to unload one of their two big men to free up Smith in his optimal position. That would be a tough decision to make, but signing Smith has created a logjam that could prevent the team from reaching its potential.
If you're picking up on the idea that the Pistons need to formulate a plan, rather than accumulating duplicative talent and hoping it finds a way to jell on its own, congratulations—you've arrived at a conclusion that Dumars needed half a decade to reach.
If there's no second step to the Smith acquisition—a trade, a philosophical tweak, a position change—the Pistons will have proved that they've learned nothing. But if signing Smith is part of a more calculated scheme, perhaps Detroit has already proved that it recognizes its past mistakes and won't repeat them.
Wouldn't that be something?
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