Can the 2015 Pistons Become the 2014 Raptors With Josh Smith Gone?
On December 9, 2013, the Toronto Raptors were 7-12 after 19 games and were in that dangerous no-man’s land -- not good enough to make a playoff run but also not bad enough to tank for a top-overall pick in the NBA Draft. They then surprised everyone by trading their apparent franchise player, Rudy Gay, to the Sacramento Kings for a combination of players without the name recognition of Gay.
Fast forward to today.
Since that trade last December, the Raptors have played 94 games and gone 65-29 in that stretch, good for a remarkable .691 winning percentage. If you’re a big believer in the “addition-by-subtraction” mantra for team sports, the Raptors of the last two years are your thesis.
Recently, the Detroit Pistons also shed their roster of a big-name, high-volume, low-efficient wing gunner in Josh Smith. Could the same thing happen for the Pistons that happened for the Raptors? Could they go on a playoff push with new head coach Stan Van Gundy?
According to nbawowy.com, the Pistons have played much better with Smith off the court this year than him on it.
PPP = point per possession
TS% = true shooting percentage (factors in 3-pointers and free throws)
USG% = percentage of possessions used by a player
|Team PPP||Team TS%||Opp PPP||Opp TS%|
|Josh Smith ON||0.984||47.4||1.095||54.5|
|Josh Smith OFF||1.093||53.4||1.051||54.0|
The difference in the Pistons’ offensive efficiency when Smith was playing and not not playing is very drastic. Their offensive rating with Smith of 98.4 would rank 29th, only ahead of the 76ers. Their rating of 109.3 with Smith off would be tied for sixth in the NBA, ahead of both the Spurs and Warriors.
It’s not that Smith is a bad player -- he’s a skilled guy who has historically been fantastic around the rim. He just doesn’t like to stay there. A whopping 24.3% of his shots this year have been from the inefficient mid-range area, and he’s only shooting 34.3% from there this season. He’s also been down this year around the basket -- the last two seasons he has shot 77.1% and 71.1% from 0-3 feet, respectively, but this year he’s shot a much lower 59.0%.
When you combine poor shot selection with bad shooting -- now, everywhere, while it used to be just at the mid-range -- it’s not that hot of a take to think that the Pistons would be better without Smith. They still have a chucker in point guard Brandon Jennings, but at least only one is better than two.
And if Smith being gone gets more looks for big men Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe, then the offense should improve as well. Interestingly, the splits for Monroe with and without Smith were about what I expected, but the ones for Drummond were not.
|Drummond PPP||Drummond USG%||Monroe PPP||Monroe USG%|
|Josh Smith ON||0.99||22.8||1.02||21.9|
|Josh Smith OFF||0.95||19.6||1.05||29.4|
Drummond is the Pistons’ franchise centerpiece of the future, and Van Gundy certainly has a glowing reputation of working with centers (see, Dwight Howard in the Finals with Orlando). Perhaps the data on Drummond will change and he will turn into a force on both ends without Smith in town. If so, then this is a positive situation for the Pistons moving forward.
It also opens up Van Gundy to get a good look at how Monroe and Drummond can coexist over the rest of the year. Sure, they would like to make the playoffs, but getting a firm reading on which pieces are long-term (other than Drummond, of course) and which should be moved might be the best thing to happen to Detroit this year.
Monroe was likely leaving Detroit after this season, but getting rid of Smith could be construed as a play to re-sign Monroe this summer. He's a divisive player around the league. He’s a skilled big man around the rim but can't stretch the floor or protect the rim -- pretty much prerequisites among big men in 2015. However, Drummond protects the rim well enough and Monroe is a skilled enough passer that perhaps they could make the combination work. Comparing them to Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph might be blasphemous to some, but the combination of skills isn't dissimilar.
With the trade, the Pistons could surprise us all and start a Raptors-like run through the miserable East. If the Raptors can do it after losing a superior player in Gay, it’s not that ridiculous to think that the same might be coming from Detroit, especially when seeing the difference in offensive potential with and without Smith on the court.