In his initial press conference and first several interviews, three things about Stan Van Gundy became crystal clear. First, he loves Andre Drummond. Second, he loves Greg Monroe. Third, he believes that Monroe and Drummond can be a very special frontcourt pairing for a long time to come.
While all of that is sweet string music to my ears, the obvious question remains: what about Josh Smith?
In a recent interview with Keith Langlois on Pistons.com, Van Gundy spoke clearly about Josh Smith's future role.
You have certain things you (as a player) can do and for whatever reason, players always want to try to do a little bit more. Well, sometimes expanding your game isn't better. Sometimes shrinking your game is a little bit better and really get to the things you do well. Those are conversations we'll have, not only with Josh. You want to play to your greatness and there is certainly greatness in Josh Smith.
Josh Smith, put in the right spots, is an outstanding player. You put Josh down on the right block, in the low post or even on a short isolation - 12 feet, 15 feet from the basket - he can get to the rim. He's outstanding. He's not only a very willing passer, but an outstanding passer. I think it's the best part of Josh's game. Probably the most overlooked part of his game is his ability to create for teammates. He can also really rebound the ball and block shots. I think he's great when he takes the ball off the boards and then can lead the break. He's got great ballhandling ability. He makes good decisions. I think Josh has got a lot of talent, but I do think that at times he can get away from his strengths and start playing to his weaknesses.
Langlois took these comments to mean that Smith will "rarely" play at small forward next to Monroe and Drummond. Coupled with Van Gundy's other comments about Drummond and Monroe, I'm inclined to agree. If Monroe and Drummond are "elite" big men, and if Josh Smith is playing away from his strengths at small forward, the obvious conclusion is that a coach shouldn't play all three of them in the same lineup.
That's even more sweet string music to my ears.
If Josh Smith doesn't play a single minute at small forward next season, the Pistons get significantly better without any other roster or system changes whatsoever. That the Pistons employ a president/coach who is already committed to this and has already had an in-person discussion about it with Josh Smith in Atlanta is a very good thing.
That said, there's a lot of work to do. It has been four years since Smith has played the kind of game that Van Gundy seems to want him to play.
In what is widely regarded as his best offensive season (including by Van Gundy himself) in 2009-2010, Smith took only twenty three percent of his shots from the perimeter and notably, just seven three point attempts. In the four seasons since? Forty-four percent, forty-five percent, forty-one percent, and forty-four percent respectively.
Maybe Josh Smith has been asked to shoot this way, and maybe it's as simple as Van Gundy asking him to do something else.
I hope so, but I'm skeptical.
Four consecutive seasons is enough to establish a pattern and develop habits, and habits can be very hard to break. His shot distribution with Detroit as a small forward is consistent with the previous three seasons as a power forward in Atlanta. Coupled with my eyeball assessment, that tells me Smith's shot selection is mostly Smith's, not his coach's and not the system's.
But Van Gundy is likely to be the toughest, best coach Smith has ever had, and the best-case scenario for everyone involved is Smith buying into this new role.
Maybe, hopefully Van Gundy is man who can make that happen.
"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."