Josh Smith lines up for a jumper as Pacer fans cheer on. (Getty Images)
Can we just make our decision about Josh Smith right now? Can’t we just sign off on this? As NBA fans and journalists and combinations of both, we’re supposed to be able to think on our feet, keep an open mind, and always presume that the game can keep teaching us new, wonderful things.
With Josh Smith, though, ten years into his career? Afforded his second huge contract and finally given a new set of surroundings in Detroit after nine years in Atlanta? Still feeling confident about all those three-pointers and long twos? Still wreaking havoc on the Pistons’ offense more often than not, even if he does provide the occasional game-winning flash?
Can we just about finish up the scouting report, after reading quotes like these?
"To be honest, I do a great job of focusing on basketball and not really reading outside negativity or criticism," Smith said. "I just try to focus on myself and being a teammate. What people say and write is beyond my control."
"I just play basketball," he said. "I'm a basketball player. People try to throw statistics in there. I'm not one to look at where I am on the court (when I shoot).
"I'm confident in each and every play I make. I don't think about it. I just play and play with confidence."
Josh Smith shouldn’t be confident in each and every play he makes. He should be confident in probably less than half of the plays he makes, mostly the ones that come close to the basket. Most of the plays he makes are from outside of eight feet, where he misses more than two-thirds of his shots. Just under four of the plays he makes per game are three-pointers, and he makes just a quarter of those shots. Yet he still keeps firing away.
He is a wildly athletic 6-9 forward with good touch and long arms, and yet he consistently parks himself on the perimeter and ends up killing the 20th-ranked Detroit offense because he only makes six of the 15 shots he takes per game, and rarely gets to the line (where he only shoots 59 percent). I don’t know how much more basic and accessible I can make this.
The solution, as Detroit coach Maurice Cheeks sees it, would be to let Smith finish the contest at power forward. Benching the younger Greg Monroe in favor of putting his highest-paid player at a position that seems to suit him best … even if Cheeks still starts the guy ostensibly out of position at small forward every night.
As Detroit Bad Boys discovered, in a must-read post, there isn’t a whole hell of a lot of difference between Josh Smith the power forward, and Josh Smith the small forward. His free throw marks go up to a not remarkable 5.7 attempts per 36 minutes, nearly doubling his marks at small forward, but his three-point attempts stay about the same, and his shooting percentage only vaults to 43 percent, up from 39 percent at small forward. And in all, his shot distribution charts look almost identical.
This is a long way of saying that it doesn’t matter where you play Josh Smith, he’s going to take long shots and be “confident” in his attempts. Even if, without a stat sheet to guide him, his own two eyes see these long or even midrange shots clanging off the rim more than two-thirds of the time.
What’s the definition of insanity, again? Oh, yeah.
Genuinely, we don’t care that Smith is saying things like this to the newspapers, because it’s not as if he should be expected to publically pillory himself and his poor perimeter performance.
What we’re judging here – as we sign off on his scouting report, sportswriter-style – is the actual play. The decision-making, and not the words. And though the Pistons are technically a playoff team right now, with their 16-22 record tying Brooklyn for the eighth seed in the East, this is still a squad with a nearly $62 million payroll and a .421 winning percentage, and these are payroll figures counted before the team attempts to re-sign the reborn Rodney Stuckey, and extend Greg Monroe and later Andre Drummond to second contracts.
Monroe being the power forward that averages 16.2 points and nearly 10 rebounds per 36 minutes on 50 percent shooting, by the way, the guy that is often benched in the fourth quarter by coach Cheeks, and doesn’t have nearly as many plays run for him as Smith.
Smith being the guy who was signed to a four-year, $54 million deal over the offseason. It was Detroit’s biggest offseason move, next to trading for Brandon Jennings and signing him to a three-year, $24 million contract. Jennings is shooting 37 percent on the year.
Perhaps it’s time to sign off on general manager Joe Dumars’ scouting report, as well.
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