Few Piston players have been as polarizing as Josh Smith has been over the past year and a half. During that time, Smith played one hundred and five games in the red, white and Pistons blue, and the Pistons won only thirty-three of those games - a staggeringly bad thirty-one percent.
At his best, Josh Smith is a versatile point forward, capable of initiating the offense, taking it coast-to-coast after a board or steal, passing better than anyone at his position, and defending any position on the floor. Anyone who watched the Pistons faithfully over the past two seasons has seen glimpses of this Josh Smith. When we've seen it, it's been amazing.
Unfortunately, we didn't see it nearly enough.
Too often, we saw a disinterested Josh Smith, content to take one bad shot after another, to jog back on defense, and to stand around uselessly when he didn't have the ball in his hands. That Josh Smith is what many Pistons fans will remember, the Josh Smith that actively led the Pistons to the lottery (in which they didn't actually have a pick), followed by one of the worst starts in franchise history.
To be crystal clear, this is the point I want to make: as a Piston, Josh Smith was terrible, and his play was a significant factor in the team's performance over the past one hundred plus games.
To make this case, I'm going where I often do, to the stats. Specifically, I'll be using a measure called Win Score (learn all about it here). Put simply, Win Score is a relatively simple measure based on a player's box score production. By Win Score, a team of "average" players would be expected to win half their games, or forty-one games per season. An "average" player - based on data from 1979-2014 - has a win score of 5.77 averaged across all five positions.
However, we can be more specific. Win Score is position adjusted, so we can compare point guards to point guards, small forwards to small forwards, and so on. For small forwards, that number is 5.10, for power forwards, 6.70 - the two relevant numbers for Josh Smith, who spent his time at these positions. For simplicity, we'll average the difference of these two positions, 5.9.
So to recap, a team of "average" players would be expected to win half their games, and an "average" SF/PF like Josh Smith produces a Win Score of 5.9. So, in order to be above "average," Josh Smith needs to produce a Win Score of 5.9 or greater.
And here is where it gets ugly.
As a Piston, Josh Smith was above average in only forty-two games. Josh Smith, the highest-paid player in Pistons history, the team leader in shots and minutes, was an above-average performer in less than half of his games.
But it gets far, far worse.
In twenty-one games, Josh Smith produced a Win Score of 0.00 or less. And in sixteen of those games, Smith's Win Score was negative.
It was that bad - about fifteen percent of the time, Josh Smith was actively taking wins off the board. To put it another way, out of an eighty-two game season, Josh Smith was taking wins off the board in twelve of them. That is incredibly difficult for any roster and coach to overcome, much less this one.
Hopefully, it goes without saying that by all accounts Josh Smith is a good human being. There's nothing personal in this admittedly harsh critique.
But Josh Smith the player? By the numbers, he was the single most significant reason the Pistons have lost as many games as they have.
No, it's not all on Smith. A team this bad never has just one problem, and this team had a lot to figure out with or without Smith. But, a lot of it was.
Stan Van Gundy will likely receive a lot of criticism in the coming weeks - especially if Josh Smith figures out how to turn his production around elsewhere - but today, I applaud this gutsy decision. It was the right decision now, and it's the right decision for the future, which - finally - begins now.