Saturday, July 6, 2013

Pistons sign Josh Smith

To almost no one's surprise but everyone's greatest fear, Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting that Joe Dumars has made his final terrible move as a GM by signing Atlanta's Josh Smith to a 4-year, $56 million contract. Smith is one of the league's most athletic wings and capable of triple doubles in a way that only he and Lebron James are. However, this is now your Pistons front court:

With floor spacing and the three-point shot dominating the NBA, pairing Drummond, Monroe, and Smith in the frontcourt creates an offense that will have neither. Monroe's sweet spot is the offensive post while Drummond excels at putbacks and alley-oops. Josh Smith, despite his tendency to heave jump shots form all areas of the court, is really only effective around the basket (he of the middle shotchart above).

As Ross Green notes in a piece for The Classical:
The value of floor spacing was catalyzed by a rule change: in 2001, in an effort to speed/open up play, the NBA removed its ban on zone defense, implementing in its place the far less restrictive defensive three-second rule. Cue the unshackling of defensive rotations, the advent of Thibodeau-style help defense; cue the transition from isolations to pick-and-rolls and rapid ball movement, and the analytics that showed the enormous value of the three-pointer relative to midrange jump shots, and the reinterpretation of the hand-checking rule in 2004 that further encouraged slash-and-kick basketball.

Thus the strategic dialectic—defenses introduce a new wrinkle; offenses respond; rinse, repeat—was essentially reset by the legalization of zone defense, proceeds apace. Teams are still experimenting on both ends of the floor—think about the Rockets’ emphasis on high-efficiency shots on offense, or the varying ways defenses handle the primary ball-handler on pick-and-rolls. But it’s fair to suggest that the NBA is converging on a new equilibrium, one that places a higher value than ever before on one of the game’s higher-variance aspects. In a sense, this is just a new gloss on basketball orthodoxy: when facing a zone, shooting matters more. Much more.
In the wake of this atmosphere around the league, Dumars' move looks panicked. This is not a basketball move, the kind of thing he spoke of when drafting KCP over Trey Burke in an effort to build a franchise, not cater to a local fanbase. I can't help but believe this is partly motivated by Tom Gores, the Pistons' new owner who promised to shake things up and spend money this summer. But it goes to show that Dumars is wandering aimlessly around the NBA landscape right now. The sooner he's ousted from this organization, the better.

The problem is not that Smith is a bad player. It's that he ideally occupies the same position as the Pistons' most talented player (Monroe). Even further, the rumblings out of Summer Camp practices hint at Tony Mitchell being extraordinarily athletic. And as I noted in my preview of Mitchell's game:
Mitchell's player profile has an eerily similar NBA comparable: Josh Smith. Smith was a high school-to-pro first rounder in 2004 and has been an enigma in the league ever since. In spite of his myriad athletic gifts, Smith is notorious for off-the-court disruption and on-court malaise. Though his defense rarely wavers, offensively, Smith can quickly fall in love with his jump shot and become an ineffective ball stopper. Even with all of these concerns, Smith is still a player that gets considered for max contracts because of his ability to take over games, and someone the Pistons are in hot pursuit of.
Dumars was to be commended for building a young, promising core of players following the Ben Gordon debacle, but just as the team was peaking its head above water and ready to enter a rich free agent market ('14-'15) with loads of cap room, he dumps a near-max contract onto a player that doesn't fit the Pistons' roster and could hamper their ability to continue building around the team's existing roster.

The Pistons may be forced to trade Greg Monroe if they plan to truly build around Smith, which his contract would indicate. Losing Monroe would only be worthwhile if the Pistons could get a dynamic wing player that could stretch the floor, but most of those have been locked up by their franchises.

That's all of the bad, which is admittedly a lot of bad. What does Smith offer that's positive? He's one of the best defenders in the league, rebounds like a maniac, and can completely dominate games in ways that few players can. To take advantage of those skills, Smith will likely have to play the power forward position with either Monroe or Drummond flanking him while the other sits on the bench. Though this could (and likely will) stint the development of Monroe and/or Drummond, it will also probably be the Pistons' best lineup. When the three big men are on the court together, it should produce a nearly impenetrable inside force that necessitates teams start heaving long, contested shots.

Ultimately, this is the death knell for Dumars with the Pistons. Barring some unexpected trades that garner an elite, young wing player, this iteration of the Pistons is going to flounder under poor offensive spacing. Greg Monroe may be gone regardless as he tests the free agency waters next year looking for more money than the Pistons can offer. If not, trading him for an elite, young wing player may be best-case scenario. For now, the team is centered on an erratic, athletic player with locker room issues who in another situation would be deserving of the contract Dumars tossed out. Just not here.

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