After signing the largest contract in Detroit Pistons‘ history last summer, a 4-year, $54 million deal, Josh Smith arguably had the most frustrating, brick-laden season in recent memory. It was a train wreck.
He enters the 2014-15 year with a fresh slate: new head coach and possibly a different role. Last year, he started at small forward, which isn’t his natural position, trying to mesh with center Andre Drummond and power forward Greg Monroe. That experiment failed badly.
Smith was regulated to launching terrible, contested three-pointers and overall sloppy decision making. His perimeter defense was never good, often losing sight of his man and looked disinterested.
He became public enemy No. 1 in Detroit, constantly having the finger pointed at him from fans for the Pistons’ struggles. It certainly wasn’t his fault entirely, but Smith didn’t do anything to help his case either.
Ideally, most fans would love it if the Pistons can trade Smith for anything, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen anymore. He’s been one of the most stubborn, frustrating players in the league throughout his career, refusing to play to his strengths.
“I’m a basketball player. People try to throw statistics in there. I’m not one to look at where I am on the court (when I shoot),” Smith said last season. “I’m confident in each and every play I make. I don’t think about it. I just play and play with confidence.”
It’s great being confident, but you also have to be smart too.
Smith is a highly efficient player inside the paint. Last season, he shot 63.2 percent within five feet from the rim. Less than eight feet, he shot 55.6 percent. In terms of three-point percentage, Smith was the absolute worst in the league for any player that shot over three, three-point attempts per game, shooting 26.4 percent. Why he refuses to stick inside the paint, no one has been able to figure out.
In this upcoming year, if the Pistons retain Monroe, Smith should come off the bench as the third big man to maximize his value, which is how the Chicago Bulls used Taj Gibson the last few years. Paying a guy over $13 million a year to come off the bench isn’t ideal, but it’s the best solution in this scenario. And he’ll still get a healthy amount of minutes of trying to be productive playing his natural position (PF).
As evidenced in his time with the Atlanta Hawks, Smith is still going to have a tendency to shoot bad jumpers, whether he’s playing PF or not. But at least they’ll be significantly reduced as compared to him playing SF. And his post defense still remains elite at that position. This can be the best way to salvage Smith’s talents.
But if the Pistons do not bring back Monroe, Smith will simply start next to Drummond. That pairing is certainly better defensively than Drummond/Monroe, but Monroe is a more efficient, productive player and is five years younger. The better long-term solution would be Drummond/Monroe, but that isn’t a given.
No matter what happens with Monroe, Smith is going to have to show that he can be coached and that he really isn’t the most stubborn player in the league. Plenty of coaches have tried to get through to him before, but none of them were Stan Van Gundy. Maybe, just maybe, he’s the one that can do it.
“If you want to be great – and I think Josh wants to be great; I think he’s been disappointed that he hasn’t been an All-Star even though he’s been close – well, if you want a different result, you’ve got to do things a little differently,” Van Gundy recently said.
As long as Smith is wearing a Pistons uniform, I will pull for him. But my patience, along with so many others, is wearing extremely thin. He has to finally “get it” this time around.