The Detroit Pistons finished a disappointing 37-45 last season. As the team looks to improve and regain a spot in the playoffs, Detroit Bad Boys is examining three things each player can do to improve their game and improve the chance the team wins. Whether you’re new to the game or a season Pistons watcher, these are important factors that anyone can appreciate and will help you understand and evaluate Detroit’s team as we get ready for the 2017-18 season.
1. Get to the free-throw line
By all accounts, Smith had a career year in 2016-17, proving once again that Stan Van Gundy remains the point guard whisperer. However, one area where Smith came up way short in SVG’s pick-and-roll attack was getting to the free-throw line. Of the 30 players who had at least 400 possessions as the ball handler in the pick and roll, Smith came in dead last, getting to the free-throw line just five percent of the time. For a team that struggles to get to the line already, a driving point guard with Smith’s quickness needs to finesse his way to the stripe more.
2. If he’s the best PG, start Ish
Looking at Detroit’s lineup data, Ish is all over the top-performing groups in Detroit last season. That says a little bit about the good season Smith had last year, but probably even more about how ineffective a banged up Reggie Jackson was. This year, there should be much less, if not none, of a presumed point guard hierarchy. If Jackson is still getting into game shape at the start of the season, Ish should start. if Jackson is at one point slowed or bothered by his degenerative knee, Ish should start. If Ish outplays a healthy Jackson, Ish should start. I’m not saying he definitely will outplay Jackson, and in a best-case scenario Ish is a quality backup. But if he outplays Jackson than he should play in front of Jackson.
3. Keep drilling that mid-range shot
It’s OK to take it as a given that Ish Smith will never develop a 3-point shot and will never be super effective at the rim. He has skill and physical limitations that make that truth unlikely to change. Thanks to his speed and passing ability, he is still a pretty effective point guard. But the reason he had a career year last year was because he was deadly from the mid-range. Yes, we need Smith to continue to take, and make, the most inefficient shot in basketball. Last season, he hit 44.4 percent of shots outside the paint but in front of the 3-point line. That was significantly better than the 40.3 percent league average. His effectiveness at hitting the mid-range J when defenders sagged off of him forced a course correction for defenses, and that leads to better passing lanes and a chance to run by defenders toward the hoop. Maybe it’s unsustainable (it is probably unsustainable), but keep living that mid-range life, Ish. The Pistons need it.