When not editing The Good Point, Austin Kent - a product of the UPPER Upper Peninsula (also known as the part of Ontario that’s not Toronto) - is an avid Pistons supporter lurking all things Detroit from his unashamedly pro-Milicic Twitter account @DarkoThrillicic. Follow him there or @TheGoodPoint.
For the first time in over half a decade there’s reason to be passionate about the Detroit Pistons. I don’t mean to say that since 2008 the club has been entirely irrelevant, just that the once routinely dominant franchise had seemingly withdrawn to the depths of public consciousness while other teams throughout the league took their turns in the spotlight.
It’s only fair, I suppose, they’d won three rings in three consecutive decades, almost without anybody ever really noticing them.
Well, Joe Dumars - the old Joe Dumars - is getting antsy.
Last week, after a chaotic first week of NBA free agency, the Pistons came to terms with their highest profile free agent signing since Chris Webber. Let that sink in because it’s nearly incomprehensible.
The announcement that Josh Smith will suit up in Pistons blue, however, did not come without its fair share of criticism. That Motown passion, the same that fueled the Palace of Auburn Hills’ 259-game sellout streak from 2004 to 2009, it seems, is once again in full effect.
You see the road that the Pistons have been on since their run of Eastern Conference Finals appearances came to an end in 2008 has been, while necessary, far from inspiring. As such, Pistons fans are disillusioned and anxious - certainly not unadulteratedly optimistic as perhaps they once may have been.
It’s a road, of course, that’s seen the one-time executive of the year Dumars cast as both the hero and the villain.
The sideline mastermind with the wherewithal to demand Ben Wallace be included in the dynasty-defining Grant Hill sign and trade deal to the Orlando Magic back in 2000 had regressed into the man who shipped 2004 Finals MVP Chauncey Billups out of town for a cranky, inefficient Allen Iverson in late 2008.
Worse, the man with the stones to add volatile, but ultimately essential, Rasheed Wallace to a contingent of postseason hungry veterans in 2004 had become the man with the stones to commit long-term to big money contracts with Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva.
The revered became the reviled, and while Pistons fans awkwardly cursed the name of the man they once defended, the rest of the world stopped watching altogether.
Maybe fans are right to have their guard up.
That era, that forgettable window of mediocrity is over. Here’s why:
With the signing of Josh Smith, the Pistons are, if nothing else, newsworthy again. They were working their way there with Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe giving Detroiters reason to make the drive to Auburn Hills again, but the $56 million Tom Gores shelled out to lure J-Smoove has all but guaranteed it.
Beyond the marketing appeal of adding a high flyer to the already promising core of young studs in the Palace, however, Pistons fans are leery.
Much of the media coverage surrounding the signing has ranged from sour to reluctant. A quick summary of the general blogosphere reads like an awkward testimonial to a movie satirized in a Saturday Night Live sketch.
The majority of fans on Twitter, in the Detroit Bad Boys comment section and communities on message boards and news aggregators across the internet have scratched their heads aloud, echoing the media’s sentiment, curious about and skeptical of Dumars blowing significant cap space for a second time in four summers.
They’re all wrong.
Or perhaps they’re just not right yet.
Rather than simply deny the common criticisms that Smith shoots too much or will only interfere with the development of Detroit’s young frontcourt though, I’d like to talk about why they’re either moot or downright inaccurate.
Smith isn’t a spot-up shooter, on that we can all agree.
Unfortunately, the major knock on the signing seems to be that the 6’9” forward doesn’t address the Pistons’ glaring lack of a perimeter scoring presence. By that logic, since he doesn’t do anything to make traffic any better in the parking lot after the game we should have taken a pass on him altogether.
Smith isn’t Dirk Nowitzki, a legitimately sized big man with a guard-like stroke, nor is he Klay Thompson, a traditional wing with traditional wing-like markmanship. The man is a unique asset whose contributions to a team will only underwhelm if he’s being expected to thrive as a primary three-point shooter.
Nonetheless, the man is lambasted for fancying himself a little bit too much of a spot-up shooter. While not untrue, the accusations are a little over the top. Smith may never push .350 from beyond the arc, but the disdain that some members of the Pistons’ community have shown is outright pretentious for the following reason.
In nine NBA seasons, Smith has shot more than 2.0 three-pointers per game three times, maxing out at 2.6 attempts per in 35-plus minutes last season - not exactly Antoine Walker territory (topping out at 8.0 in 2001-2002 for the masochistically inclined). Precisely 99 players hoisted more triples than Smith in 2012-13, players like Byron Mullens, a pure center, and Corey Brewer, a defensive specialist. Neither shot better than .320, compared to Smith's .303.
If Smith had shot .350 from beyond the arc, given his tendencies and games played, it would have amounted to eight more three-pointer made on the season.
If Cheeks wants to crack down on reining in the 27-year-old from beyond the arc, that’s his prerogative, but don’t expect that to be the dealbreaker standing between the 2013-14 Pistons and the postseason. There’s a reason the Atlanta Hawks have been to the playoffs in each of the past six seasons and, despite one big fat, hairy check in a Russian billionaire's filing cabinet that might say otherwise, it was never Joe Johnson.
“Oh, but we don’t need him!” you might shout defiantly, crossing your arms in a huff.
Smith is a power forward by some archaic definitions of the position, but more than that he’s a forward. To be honest, he’ll spend time as the biggest man on the court, too, which to certain individuals, might qualify as something a center would do. Beyond semantics, he’s simply a big man with size functioning adeptly as a vital cog in some Bizarro rendition of Nellyball.
Call Smith the same position as Greg Monroe all you want, but that doesn’t mean they play the same style of basketball. In fact, far from it. While Monroe has made a name for himself as the bread and butter, post-up option with the soft hands and the ability to find players cutting through the key from the high-post, Smith is an option that can accept the ball out on the perimeter.
Where a play in which Monroe or Drummond accept the ball on the perimeter in a half-court set is destined to either break down or end in hilarity, not so with Smith. Unlike the two traditional bigs that Smith will presumably join in Detroit’s starting lineup, Smith can take a pass out on the three-point line and slash through the key. In some respects, he’s about as much a power forward as LeBron James, though slightly less imposing and admittedly less decorated.
Typically Smith’s offensive strikes result in catching the ball 18-feet or more away from the basket and ultimately forging forward using his length to stride by his defender.
Historically this has led to Smith’s rather difficult to defend runner (not to mention many a poster) but in Detroit it may be the perfect solution to getting Drummond or Monroe the ball within feet of the basket. Unlike Will Bynum or Brandon Knight, though, he doesn’t need to start the possession with the ball in order to do it.
Having Smith on the move, essentially using the commotion that he’s capable of creating through the high post as a means of handing the ball off to teammates, could be one of the most effective tools in Maurice Cheeks’ arsenal in 2013-14.
Not only that, but Smith can also be used as a ball handling option when looking to push the offensive tempo in transition. You - assuming you’re a Pistons big man active on the defensive glass - can outlet the ball to Smith with confidence that he’ll be able to jumpstart a break as effectively as anybody north of 6’8” in the NBA.
Those offensive possibilities only add to Smith’s defensive offerings, making the four-year investment worth every penny.
All things considered, what the community is slamming every time they hate on the move, is the most significant thing to happen to the Pistons since they landed Sheed (from, you guessed it ... the Hawks ... shut up, it counts).
From behind the keys of a Macbook it’s easy to gloss over the intangible advantages of a move of this nature, like the sheer confidence spike inevitable throughout an organization that comes when the third-most vaunted free agent commits to a city. God knows Detroit of all places could benefit from it.
Who knows what the future has in store for the franchise. Smoove may not play out all four of his years in a Pistons jersey and may never become the affable team figurehead that Rasheed Wallace quickly became, but that doesn’t mean the deal is a step in the wrong direction.
Looking back at this move five years from now, batty old Joe Dumar’s decision to sign Josh Smith in the summer of 2013 could very well be the difference between “Detroit, the team Andre Drummond played out his rookie contract with before bolting for the sunnier confines of anywhere else in America” and “Detroit, the team with the opportunity to win a fourth NBA championship in four consecutive decades”.
It’s worth getting behind, no?
In both 2008 and 2012, Austin Kent sat down with Smith for features stories that were published on The Good Point.
-On Josh Smith's first free agency in 2008 (Darko reference within)
-On Josh Smith's attitude in 2012