Has Josh Smith turned a corner?
This year, however, Smith was on pace for one of his least efficient seasons to date. His field goal percentage on the year is 40.7%, well under his career worst clip of 42.5%, which came in his second year in the league. He’s also on pace to shoot more three pointers than ever before. Right now, he’s attempting 4.2 three pointers per contest (last year’s 2.6 per game was a previous career high) while making only 26.4%. The 26.4% is - surprisingly enough - not a career worst for Smith, but his average of 3.1 missed three pointers per game is distantly a career high. Last season’s 1.8 missed three pointers was his previous worst.
So all in all, it’s been an awkward sort of transition to Detroit for Smith, playing mostly the small forward position while Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond handle the paint both offensively and defensively. Smith has been stuck on the perimeter, and usually rather open because defenses love nothing more than a Josh Smith jump shot to end a possession.
But now, however, the Pistons may have finally broken in a strategy to maximize Smith’s offensive efficiency and so far, it’s had a great effect on the team’s play.
Sunday night, the Pistons fought the now 22-4 Portland Trail Blazers pound for pound to a 111-109 overtime loss. In the contest, Smith played 46 minutes and took 17 shot attempts (second on the team behind Rodney Stuckey’s 18). Two of those shots came from behind the arc, but the other 15 were all 2-point attempts, and of those 15 2-point attempts, Smith was able to cash in on 13. He finished the night with a season high 31 points.
The following night, the Pistons went into Indiana and became the first team to defeat the Pacers at home this season. Leading Detroit’s 101-96 win with 30 points was Smith. He shot 13 of 29 from the field (not quite as efficient as he was Sunday) and in the 37 minutes he played, he didn’t commit a single turnover.
Smith is a tough matchup for a lot of small forwards in the post and head coach Maurice Cheeks is determined to make sure Smith gets more touches on the block as the season goes on. “Putting the ball in his hands a little bit more and trying to get him off the perimeter” is Cheeks’ new game plan.
The only question from Pistons fans and the NBA community as a whole: What took so long?
Well, as far as Atlanta went, Smith was one of the more talented offensive players on the team in the past decade, possibly second behind Joe Johnson. He did a good job scoring in the paint but the team also needed him stretching defenses with his jump shot because they greatly lacked outside shooters after Johnson left and before some guy named Kyle Korver came along.
With Detroit, Smith is in a bit of an awkward situation. Monroe and Drummond are the team’s top two young players and both of them need to be in or near the paint in order to be fully effective on offense. So far, that’s relegated Smith to a role on the perimeter, complicating the team’s offensive approach. But now it appears as if Cheeks and company are ready to set Smith loose on the inside. That likely means that Monroe will be on the trading block quite soon so that the team can find a perimeter player to give the offense more versatility, but for now, Smith’s head is in the right place and if he can stay hot, the Pistons will be well on their way to their first playoff birth since 2009.