The Detroit Pistons made as big a splash as anyone other than the Houston Rockets this offseason, adding Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings. Pairing those two with Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond had most observers discussing the Pistons as a near certainty for a playoff spot, with some arguing that Detroit could challenge the top teams in the Eastern Conference.
However, the Pistons have gotten off to a 2-5 start this season, and Smith was removed from the starting lineup yesterday against the Golden State Warriors, playing a mere 19 minutes. Smith said after the game that he was ok with the benching, but a player of his reputation and salary is not likely to be happy coming off the bench for very long.
Through seven games, Smith is averaging 15.3 PPG on just 41.6% shooting, including 27.5% from three. That is far from the production the Pistons had in mind when they agreed to play Smith $13.5 million per year. When the Pistons made this signing, there were major concerns about how Smith would fit in the front line alongside Monroe and Drummond, as Smith is not a good enough shooter to be a full time small forward.
Those concerns are being realized now, and the Pistons have to figure out a way to manage their rotation in order to make the three players work together. However, it appears that having all three players on the court at the same time is simply not a good option for the Pistons, and meaning someone has to be relegated to coming off the bench.
Drummond is an absolute beast, and he is one of the most promising prospects in the NBA. He is averaging 11.6 PPG and 11.1 RPG in this young season, and taking him out of the lineup would be a huge mistake. Monroe has been the team’s best player thus far, averaging 17.6 PPG and 10.3 RPG while shooting 50.0% from the field. It would appear that reducing his minutes would also be the wrong choice.
That leaves the highly paid Smith as the odd man out, which would seem to indicate the Pistons made a mistake in signing him in the first place. Of course, there is still a very long way to go in the season, and there is certainly a good chance that Pistons will get things sorted out and see all three players become productive. However, it is equally likely (some would say more likely) that the three players simply can’t work together offensively, if only because they all need to operate in the post to be effective.
The Pistons have to be concerned that made a huge mistake by bringing in Smith, and the reality is that there is no good way to change the situation. Monroe is the only one who could be traded (no one would trade for Smith’s contract and trading Drummond would be incredibly stupid), but it is unlikely the Pistons would actually get better in any trade that cost them Monroe.
That means that the Pistons have to figure out a way to make this work, and their best hope is to be able to convince either Smith or Monroe to come off the bench. There is not enough floor spacing when all three players are on the court together, and the Pistons have to find a way to configure their rotation so they can avoid that lineup. The Pistons put themselves in a very difficult situation here, and it will be very difficult for them to straighten their offense out.