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Josh Smith: 2013-14 Detroit Pistons Preview

Detroit's success this season hinges on its big offseason acquisition. It's all about what Josh Smith does, and, more importantly, what he doesn't do during his first year in Motown.

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Spor

2012-13 Year in Review

Josh Smith is not a good offensive player. In fact, even when he is at his best, it's hard to argue that he is a good offensive player. That's not to say he can't do certain things  on offense, just that his offensive game is limited. Unfortunately, the fact is, historically, Smith's role on offense is not that of a limited player but of a featured scorer. He takes a lot of shots. He misses a lot of shots. And the last two seasons have seen him hoist more attempts than ever. This is despite a true shooting percentage around 50 percent and this infamous shot chart:


In fact, the 2012-13 season might have been the 27-year-old's worst since he was old enough to drink a beer. Nearly all of that can be attributed to his poor offensive output (he was a net negative on offense last season). He attempted nearly 50 more 3-pointers than any previous season (201) despite connecting at just a 30 percent clip. He also attempted just 4.3 free throws per game.

And it's not just that he takes 3-pointers -- it's that he takes way too many long 2-pointers as well.

Smith shot 70 percent on the 464 shots he attempted within five feet. That's great. Unfortunately, he also attempted 718 shots outside of five feet and only connected on 32 percent of them. To be successful in Detroit, he's going to have to be more of a facilitator than a scorer (he's a great passer for a big man), and focus on taking advantage of the opportunities given to him on fastbreaks, basket cuts and on the block against smaller defenders.

If Smith shot 10 times a game like Andre Iguodala (another versatile player who is a terror on defense), instead of 16 times per game, Smith would be a much better player and help his team win a lot more games.

That is because Smith's real value comes on the defensive end. He averages more than two blocks and eight rebounds per game, and he should be able to provide both more rim protection to complement Andre Drummond, and better perimeter defense than we got from the Tayshaun Prince/Kyle Singler combination last year. He's also, as previously mentioned, a terrific passer. His passing will be extremely valuable as the Pistons will need to move the ball well to find open perimeter shooters and negotiate what is expected to be a packed lane with non-jump shooters Smith, Drummond (great hands) and Greg Monroe (also a great passer) in the same lineup.

Smith has played mostly power forward in his career and will be asked to slide over to the small forward position in Detroit. It's hard to determine exactly how successful he was as a small forward while in Atlanta, but he does have skills that indicate he could excel there. He is a quality pick and roll defender, with superior athleticism and good foot mobility. He has a tendency to lose focus occasionally but for the most part plays hard -- especially on defense.

And his versatile defense is going to be where Smith will have to earn his sizable $13.5 million paycheck. He is one of only nine qualified players in 2012-13 that had a block percentage greater than 3.5, a steal percentage greater than 1.5 and a total rebound percentage of 12 percent or more. And he is the only player to do that while also dishing out more than four assists per game. So while he has many holes in his game, he also does a lot of things that could help this team.

2013-14 Projected Production

Figuring out Smith's production is tricky. He's coming off of a horrific offensive season in Atlanta where he often looked like he wanted to be anywhere else. He's joining a team that, at least if you believe what they say, is building around young big men Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe. He also has teammates that can carry the offensive load -- not just its young big men but also Brandon Jennings, Chauncey Billups, Luigi Datome and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. If Smith takes a back seat offensively and serves more as a facilitator, he could have a great year and push himself into All-Star game consideration.

But if Detroit's rookies struggle, Smith jacks up even more perimeter shots as a small forward than he did as a power forward, and leads the team in field-goal attempts (all plausible scenarios), he and his new team could be big busts.

Allow me to officially cop out and say the truth will probably lie somewhere in between those two extremes. Smith is going to be extremely frustrating, and the number of perimeter shots is going to be maddening. But even if he provides negligible value on offense, I expect him to contribute to a big step forward for Detroit's defense, which was already poised to get much better with 30 minutes per game of Drummond. With Smith and company, the Pistons won't be one of the top-10 offenses in the NBA next season, but it should be a top-10 defense.

And we like our defense in Detroit. And we haven't seen it for far too long.

With Drummond controlling the paint, Smith can check most of the best offensive players on opposing teams along the perimeter - especially big forwards in the East like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Paul George and Paul Pierce. He'll also be able to slide over to power forward when Monroe or Drummond sits, and will spend a big chunk of his playing time at his natural four position.

Versatility. Facilitation. Better decision making. Defense. Those are the keys to a successful Josh Smith season. There is a chance Detroit is a surprisingly effective team and there is a big chance the Pistons are an absolute train wreck this season. And a lot of that hinges on how successful Smith integrates himself into this lineup.

No pressure or anything.


35 minutes per game, 15.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.5 steals, 54% TS