Let's take a look at how Detroit's coaches should approach the season with the current roster. Since the offseason started, Joe Dumars has had a very specific plan for this team. He has targeted two players, devised a plan to get them, and then succeeded in his goal by landing both players. The first was the secretive plan to target Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in the draft, followed by an all out pitch at 12:01 am of free agency to get Josh Smith. Now it is up to new coach Mo Cheeks to put it all together, as Dumars has stated that they are accepting of all Smith's flaws.
The easy part is on the defensive end. This team has the talent to be very aggressive. With Andre Drummond as the anchor, it will allow the perimeter defenders to play tight defense at all times. Because of the size and athleticism of the perimeter defenders, Smith, KCP, and Brandon Knight, they are going to be able to create havoc. Having this style of defense is very important for this team, if they start to become passive their offense is going to struggle. Smith's offensive flaws are obvious to most, he is a poor jump shooter who takes way too many jumpers. Detroit's main offensive is going to come from their defense. Since they are taller, faster, and more athletic than almost every team in the NBA, they need to push the tempo at all times. Teams that fail to get back on defense are going to get blown out. The transition game is going to be their main offensive weapon. It is very rare for a NBA team to have a size/speed advantage at all 5 positions in any given game. For Detroit to be successful, they need to push the basketball.
The half court offense is the tricky part as to how effective the Smith signing will ultimately be. I would say that the floor spacing issues that have been discussed have been a little overblown. The two teams who played for the championship last season only started two 3-point threats for each team. They did however have to ability to bring in a few additional shooters off the bench. It looks like Detroit is going to employ a similar strategy, with the signing of Luigi Datome and Chauncey Billups.
Because of the size and athleticism of their players, they are not giving up any mismatches on the defensive end. This same size advantage should create mismatches on the offensive end. The key to the starters being effective is going to be exploiting these mismatches. The average starting SF in the NBA is 6'7", and no team has a starting SF taller than Smith at 6'9". Detroit should be focused on posting either opposing forward with Monroe or Smith, depending on the match up. Since they are both very good passers for their size, they should be able to play inside out very effectively. Keeping the weak side players active will be key in minimizing the lack of floor spacers, and keep their defenders busy. Whether it is Monroe, Smith, or Drummond, they are all strong finishers and a threat cutting to the hoop.
Normally a team with a lack of floor spacers will face a clogged lane from teams sagging off their man. This is usually the case when you have an offensive player who is not a serious threat, fortunately Detroit's forwards are all a serious threat. However because they are only a threat in the lane, they are gonna need to be active in and around the lane. Some simple screening action on the weak side can help keep those defenders honest. Lets say Monroe is posting the left block, Dre is weak side baseline, and Smith is weak side elbow. If Dre sets a back screen on Smith's man and Smith cuts to the rim, this will force a switch to protect the basket. If Dre then seals and cuts behind Smith, it should leave Smith's original defender behind him. Monroe now has passing options with 2 cutters to the hoop who finish well above the rim, both of the weak side defenders are now occupied preventing a double on Monroe, and all 3 Detroit big men are close the rim to rebound any misses. It is this type of interior passing threat that should keep teams from packing the paint, and it works no matter who is posting up.
They are also likely to employ some off ball screening to open up the KCP. These types of plays we are all familiar with having seen Rip run these for years. Pope was very effective coming off of screens at Georgia. We are also going to see Monroe from the high post quite a bit. From there we are gonna see entry passes to the low post, passes to guards coming off screens, drives to the hoop, and all the usual stuff that worked last year. This set is basically unchanged as Singler and Maxiell were even less of a threat than Drummond and Smith are gonna be. The constant cutting and screening by those 2 will prevent too much sagging of the defense, because would you really want to give Drummond a running start at the rim? Teams are going to need to keep a big body close to prevent him from tearing the rim off. Keeping Smith moving should keep him from spotting up on those long jumpers that he likes so much.
The transition offense, running the guards off screens, attacking smaller interior defenders, and using Monroe from the high post should provide enough offense for Detroit's starters. If it doesn't for any reason, they are going to be bringing shooters in off the bench to spread the floor. The second unit, now being led by Billups, should provide more than enough spacing with Datome, Singler, and Middleton. The bench should be able to provide the scoring boost if the starters struggle. This is very similar to Miami's approach, were they bring Allen, Battier, and Miller off the bench. Once the floor is spread expect to see a lot of high pick-and-rolls, with shooters all over the perimeter. I would also expect a lot of this when they go offense for defense at the end of games. Remember this team only needs to score more than they give up, with what looks like a tough defense with strong rebounding, they are likely to get extra possessions every game to score those points.