Instant Trade Analysis: Josh Smith to the Detroit Pistons

Detroit Pistons get: F Josh Smith on a four year, $56 million dollar contract
 
J-Smoove finally got his big money deal yesterday, though perhaps not the maximum salary that he so openly sought. After days of rumors that Detroit GM Joe Dumars wanted to add Smith to a fearsome frontcourt rotation of Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe, the forward joined the Pistons for an average annual paycheck of $14 million.
 
Detroit had cut payroll throughout the season to find the money for a substantial free agent this summer, including shipping out longtime SF Tayshaun Prince and paying the price of a first round draft pick to get rid of Ben Gordon’s $13 million dollars for next year. To Dumars’ credit, he was able to strip down the team to not only have money for a max contract player this summer, as well as next year when he’ll have roughly $27 million dollars in cap room. To Dumars’ discredit, the mess of a roster he had to clean up was composed of signings of his doing, including gigantic missteps in the way of Charlie Villanueva, Gordon, Prince and Rodney Stuckey.

Smith is an extraordinary player, though perhaps not the guy you’d want as your highest paid player. He averaged an excellent 17 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists and nearly 2 blocks per game last year, all dips in production from his career season in ’11-’12. Defense and his explosive athleticism are the two primary reasons why Smith got this contract to begin with, exemplified by his grabbing 8 boards and swatting 2 shots on a nightly basis as a small forward. Though not as elite of a perimeter defender as his length, agility and strength would have you believe, Smoove is still a very versatile defensive player as he can front both forwards and guards. Offensively, he’s best when attacking the rim, as he shot .771 at close proximity last year. He’s a deadly finisher on any fast break, and is best left alone by defenders if he’s got any space going to the rack. To top it off, Smith is an underrated passer, who’s not afraid to share the ball. On the surface, the former Atlanta forward has all the tools to be an elite player. What’s holding him back?

Two major drawbacks: the dude cannot shoot and…he’s a bonehead.

Nothing better exemplifies these flaws than his three-point shooting. A career .283 shooter from downtown, Smith for some reason continues to throw up 25-foot bricks time after time. For the past three seasons, Josh has taken just over 2 per game, connecting on a paltry 30% of them. He’s an even worse shooter from mid-range (just 23% on shots from 10 feet to the three-point line), which raises two questions: why is he still taking these shots and why hasn’t he tried to improve over his nine seasons in the league? Smith has undoubtedly hurt his teams year after year by putting up shots he cannot make. Moreoever, Smith has degraded from a decent free throw shooter into a downright terrible one: over the past three seasons, his percentage has dropped from 72% to 63% to 52%. For a player that’s most effective while attacking the rim, it’s a deadly weakness in his game.

In regards to his place on the Pistons offensively, I’m not certain where he fits in. Second year man Andre Drummond was impressive in his rookie campaign, but is still an extremely limited player that needs to be glued to the paint. PF Greg Monroe continues to blossom into an All-Star caliber player, but his excellent footwork in the post won’t be able to be featured with two other bigs around him that can’t hit from beyond 10 feet. Luckily, Monroe is solid mid-range shooter (over 30% from 10 feet out last year), but I’m not certain if that’s the best use of his talents to keep him so far from the rim. In short, Smith will really muck up the spacing of this Pistons team, even with gunners like Brandon Knight, Stuckey and rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope taking up a lot of minutes in the back court. New coach Mo Cheeks will have to get creative with his lineups and offense, especially in crunch time: Monroe is the best free throw shooter at .689, while Drummond pulls up the rear at an unreal .371. The Pistons are depending on a lot of developing youngsters and inconsistent veterans–there’s really no telling if this offense will work. It could be an abject disaster.

In order to offset the chaos Smith is sure to cause on the offensive end of the court, he’ll have to contribute premium defense at the other end. With Smith and Drummond, as well as Monroe who can hold his own, the Pistons should be able to wreak havoc on opposing offenses night after night, destroying looks at the rim with their athleticism and weakside recovery.

All in all, the Pistons got a very good player at a decent price, though unless something dramatic changes with his shooting, the quagmire Smith could create offensively might offset his contributions on defense. In order for this signing to be a complete win for the Pistons, they’ll have to get a First Team All-Defense-type year from Smith, as well as the team winning enough to make the draft pick sacrificed to achieve the means to signing him less significant.

 

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