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Why Josh Smith Experiment Won't Work out for the Detroit Pistons

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Why  Josh Smith Experiment Won't Work out for the Detroit Pistons
Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

The transition of Josh Smith to the Detroit Pistons has not been as smooth as some would have hoped. Is there a way to make him fit better, or is it time for the Pistons to make a move in the trade market?

The biggest issue with the Pistons is that, while they have a big frontcourt in Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Smith, they also have an overcrowded one.

Outside of the restricted area, Drummond has made 3-of-6 attempts on the season, all from inside 10 feet. Monroe has made 19-of-55 mid-range attempts and none from three. Josh Smith is 66-of-237 outside of the restricted area.

Combined, that’s 88-of-298 from more than three feet away.

They are beastly inside, knocking down a collective 330 of 548 attempts, but you can only squeeze so many big men into a three-foot semicircle. When I say “overcrowded,” I’m being literal, not metaphorical.

Data obtained from NBAWowy.

Using NBAwowy’s handy little tool, we can see what the team does per possession, both on offense and defense, when each combination of the three is on the floor.

As you can see, when the full trio is on the court, it has the worst ramifications on both ends. When it’s just Drummond and Smith, the offense plays best. When it’s just Monroe and Smith, the defense does.

In all these instances, though, the Pistons are outscored by their opponents.

Now let’s look at how the team shoots from mid-range with each combo on the court. The numbers are the actual makes and misses, but the bars visualize the shooting percentages.

Data obtained from NBAwowy

When Drummond and Monroe are playing together but Smith is sitting, the Pistons are actually a pretty solid mid-range team. It’s when Smith is on the court that shooting becomes a problem. Some of this is on his belief that he’s a jump-shooter, but some of it is on him being signed to play small forward when he doesn’t have the shot to be one.

This is further magnified by the fact that the Pistons are 33.7 percent from three as a team with Smith on the bench, but only at 26.2 percent when he’s on the court. Overall, they are just 31.4 percent from deep.

While many teams are looking for a stretch 4, the Pistons don’t even have a stretch 3. And it’s like they don’t even care if they hit shots from deep or not. While their shooting is the second-worst in the league, they’ve taken the 13th-most three-point attempts.

Smith has taken the second-most of those on the Pistons, making a paltry 26.9 percent of them.

By using Basketball-Reference’s Game Finder, we can determine that over the course of his NBA career, when Smith has attempted four or more shots from deep, his teams have won 40.4 percent of their games. When he has attempted three or fewer, they have won 47.8 percent of them.

In other words, Smith shooting threes is a good way to lose, and this year he is averaging a career-high 4.3 attempts per game.

Playing him at small forward is a great way to encourage him to shoot threes.

Add to this the fact that, per Hoopsstats.com, the Pistons yield the second-most points to opposing small forwards per game.

The essence of the problem is simple: The Pistons inked the best player they could, but he was a power forward and they already had a power forward. So now they’re trying for all they’re worth to hammer a square peg into a round hole and make him a small forward.

Atlanta worked at that for years and had no more success than Detroit is having.

The problem isn’t figuring out how to get the three (Smith, Drummond and Monroe) to work together; it’s that they structurally aren’t able to work together.

Therefore, Detroit is left with two options.

The first is to bring Smith off the bench. His athleticism and all-around game would make him a great sixth man, and he and Rodney Stuckey work exceptionally well together, averaging 1.113 points per possession, a better rate than Smith's rate with either of the two bigs.

The problem is, the idea of your highest-paid player being your sixth man doesn't seem all that bright.

The only other thing that makes sense is to put one of the three on the trading block.

Drummond would be the easiest to trade, because most teams in the league would salivate at the chance to get him. Of course, that’s why it would be sheer lunacy to trade him. He’s pretty much untouchable right now.

When restrictions on trading free agents acquired during the offseason are lifted on December 15, Smith becomes a trade candidate. Because Monroe is likely to be the better, cheaper player over the next four years, it would behoove general manager Joe Dumars to move Smith.

One of two things is true: Dumars signed Smith knowing it wouldn’t work, but he did so anyway for the sake of acquiring an asset he could trade, or Dumars didn’t even know it wouldn’t work.

Either way, this experiment is not working, and it’s time to trade Smith.

NBA.com/STATS

One possible target is Evan Turner of the Philadelphia 76ers. He’s a pure small forward, and while he’s not particularly great from three, he does have a passable mid-range game and could help the Pistons with spacing. Also, unlike Smith, he seems to know his weaknesses and doesn’t shoot excessively from spots where he misses.

Everyone makes mistakes. There’s nothing wrong with that as long as you can identify them and correct them. It’s time for Dumars to acknowledge his and shop Smith for a true small forward. The greatest value he has to the Pistons right now is as a trade asset, and I’m not joshing.

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