It's Time for Detroit Pistons to Abandon Failing Josh Smith Experiment

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistJanuary 8, 2014

Dec 30, 2013; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Detroit Pistons small forward Josh Smith (6) warms up before the game against the Washington Wizards at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Pistons now have permission to panic. 

Motor City's NBA representative was supposed to be a bona fide contender in the Eastern Conference this season. At the very least, these 2013-14 Pistons should've been able to maintain great position for a solid playoff spot from the time the season tipped off.

Neither has happened. 

Instead, Detroit has remained in position to advance to the postseason, but only because the East is absolutely terrible and a 14-21 record is enough to hold down the No. 8 seed. The Pistons are on a five-game losing streak, they've been outscored by 3.1 points per contest, and nothing hints at an immediate turnaround. 

In fact, this squad, according to Basketball-Reference, ranks No. 19 in offensive rating and No. 23 in defensive rating. Hardly a recipe for success, last time I checked.

After a blowout loss at the hands of the Marc Gasol-less Memphis Grizzlies, everything boiled over. Per the Detroit News' Vincent Goodwill, Brandon Jennings was noticeably frustrated on the bench and said after the game, "It’s most definitely an emergency because right now it’s really slipping away from us. And if we don’t become a better second-half team then we’re gonna [sic] lose a lot of games."

There's a remarkably simple solution for the Pistons' woes: Give up on the ill-fated Josh Smith experiment. 

Dec 23, 2013; Cleveland, OH, USA; Detroit Pistons small forward Josh Smith smiles after a 115-92 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

When Smoove signed with Detroit during the offseason, putting the Atlanta Hawks portion of his career behind him, there were a bunch of reactions.

For the most part, Atlanta fans breathed a sigh of relief. Despite Smith's immense talent, he had an undeniable propensity for taking ill-advised jumpers, and Philips Arena had grown rather tired of listening to the sound of a ball clanging off the rim.

But in Detroit, optimism reigned supreme.

Sports Illustrated's Rob Mahoney was one of those who defended the move, closing his article by writing, "Redundancy isn’t some great sin for teams in construction. Value is value, and Detroit paid a fair price to pick up a talented player, explosive defender and experimental component while the younger pieces on the roster develop."

No arguments from me, but the key word is "experimental."

Dec 18, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; Detroit Pistons small forward Josh Smith (6) looks for an opening around Boston Celtics shooting guard Jeff Green (8) during the fourth quarter of Detroit's 107-106 win at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TOD
Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

What happens when an experiment doesn't work? You stop running it, and that's exactly what the Pistons must do at this stage of a 2013-14 season that's not-so-slowly slipping away from them.

Through the initial 35 games of his first—and potentially last—go-round with Detroit, Smith is averaging 15.2 points, 6.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.5 blocks. While those seem like valuable, stat-stuffing numbers, it's about to get worse. 

In addition to those averages, Smoove is turning the ball over 2.5 times per game, too high a figure for a player who doesn't control the ball that often. He's also shooting only 40 percent from the field, 25.2 percent beyond the arc and 60.8 percent at the charity stripe. 

The main source of the problem is his frustrating and inexplicable desire to pull up from the perimeter and fire away with a long two-pointer or three-point attempt. This shot chart, courtesy of (subscription required), is just about as ugly as it gets:

There's more red there than you'd find at a Kansas City fountain after a dyeing attempt gone wrong. 

The mid-range jumpers are bad. The three-point attempts are worse. 

Not only is Smith shooting 25.2 percent from downtown, he's firing away a career-high 3.9 times per game. How is this justifiable in any way? 

Throughout the NBA this season, 60 players are taking more triples than Smith during the average game, per Basketball-Reference. Problem is, 99 guys are making more than him. Obviously that's not a good combination.

The fault for this misguided attempt to play quality basketball can be divvied up to two parties: Smith himself and the Pistons organization as a whole.'s databases (subscription required) show that Smith has spent 674 minutes this season playing alongside both Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond. Unsurprisingly, that trio has been outscored by 9.2 points per 100 possessions and performed poorly on both ends of the court. 

Dec 18, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; Detroit Pistons small forward Josh Smith (6) is congratulated by power forward Greg Monroe (10) and shooting guard Chauncey Billups (1) after hitting a shot during the fourth quarter of Detroit's 107-106 win over the Boston
Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

When the other two bigs are on the floor, Smith is forced out to the perimeter. That's why the Pistons are at fault; they're essentially asking him to stand out near the three-point arc. What do you think he's going to do when he gets to touch the ball?

It's like leaving a kid alone in a candy store. Of course the kid is going to pig out and ruin his appetite for dinner, but who's at fault? Is it the kid for succumbing to his desire for candy, or is it the parents for allowing the temptation to exist in the first place? 

Smith can't resist his candy, but he's being constantly tempted. 

Now this would all be fine and dandy if the 28-year-old were making up for his offensive deficiencies with the stellar, versatile defense that we've come to expect over the years. Except that hasn't happened. 

Synergy Sports (subscription required) reveals that the forward is allowing 0.96 points per possession, a number topped by 301 players throughout the NBA. There are an average of 10.1 players on each NBA team posting better individual numbers, so don't be swayed by the glamor stats like blocks and steals.

As you can see up above, Smith's production has taken a steep nosedive since he left Atlanta. He's defending pick-and-roll sets better, but everything else is significantly worse. The isolation defense is particularly problematic.

In the past, Smith has been able to make up for individual lapses by flying around the court and using his anticipation skills and immense athleticism to terrorize opponents. Not this year, though. The Pistons are allowing 1.3 more points per 100 possessions when he's on the court, according to  

There just aren't positives from the time Smith has spent with the Pistons, and now it's time to pull the plug on the failed experiment before it's too late.

Detroit could wallow around with the current lineup, failing to gain ground on the rest of the playoff contenders in the Eastern Conference. Or it could shake things up and acquire a new part, as Smith is still an insanely talented forward who would draw a lot of interest from a team with the right system to maximize his contributions.

As the old saying goes: If it ain't broke, don't fix it. 

Well, the Pistons are broke. It's time to fix them. 


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