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Dissecting the limitations and possibilities of a Josh Smith-Greg Monroe-Andre Drummond front line

Josh Smith is a fascinating player, bringing both excitement and disappointment within the same game. Heck, within the same play.

On one possession, he is attacking the defense and finishing directly at the rim. And then, perhaps on the next trip down the floor he will take a slightly sophisticated offensive play and turn it into this:

The above video says something about both Smith and the defense he faced. That footage is from the 2013 playoffs against arguably the best defense in the league: the Indiana Pacers.

The Atlanta Hawks ran some screen action coupled with some cuts to create some type of confusion on the Pacers’ front with the hope that Paul George might go over the screen. That would have given Smith a driving lane to the hoop.

However, George was smart enough to go underneath the screen and concede the open long 2-point jumper. Per Hoopdata, Smith hits that shot at a 33 percent clip. Just so we’re clear, that’s not good.

The next bit of info might scare Pistons’ fans: Smith attempted 334 field goals from mid-range (anything outside of the paint and inside the 3-point line) during the 2012-13 season and converted 30.5 percent of them.

For perspective, the notoriously trigger-happy Monta Ellis made a much higher percentage of his mid-range shots (36.2 percent). Because the Pistons are not exactly great at spacing the floor with perimeter shooters, fans might worry that Smith will continue to float on the perimeter and take jumpers.

But a small reality check is in order. Smith, despite taking the 19th-most shots in the NBA last season, didn’t even crack the top-40 for mid-range attempts. He actually managed 447 shots in the restricted area, per NBA.com/stats.

That last figure is important. Smith was in the top-20 in shots in the restricted area in 2012-13, and Greg Monroe led the league. They will now be playing together in tandem, which comes with some very intriguing possibilities.

Maurice Cheeks will have to devise some creative ways to get Monroe, Smith and Andre Drummond each looks directly at the basket. Because the Pistons aren’t a great shooting team, there are concerns about the feasibility of it all.

But there is hope.

Smith is an incredibly talented forward who possesses a wide array of skills. He is a decent ball handler and good passer from multiple spots on the court. As a result, he will be able to create shots for himself and teammates simply by his presence on the floor.

Both he and Monroe should act as hubs in the offense.

Smith can handle the ball in the pick-and-roll. Though Detroit should not get too enamored with that possibility – according to Synergy Sports, Smith turned the ball over on roughly a third of his pick-and-rolls as the ball handler and he converted 36.8 percent of his shots in this setting – it’s a good option  just to give defenses a different look and also set them up for a little misdirection. Because Smith understands defensive concepts and player tendencies, he can make plays with his passing in the high-post.

Watch this video:

Al Horford fakes as if he is going to run a pick-and-roll at the elbow with Smith, but instead, Horford slips the screen and dives straight to the hoop for a catch and finish.

Good-passing big men open up the floor for teammates, and  either Monroe or Drummond can substitute for Horford in the above set. The beauty of Smith and Monroe though is their ability to reverse roles given their respective skill sets.

Monroe is also quite an adept passer and consequently there is enormous value in playing both big men near the elbows as opposed to the traditional high-low look. Look at the sweet play the Hawks run for Smith with Horford acting as the release point that makes it all happen:

The Piston offense has the potential to be above average – maybe even good – after ranking in the league’s bottom third last season.

Smith gives the Pistons a new dimension they didn’t have previously. Although there are concerns about his fit alongside Drummond, that may end up being overblown.

Drummond is fairly raw offensively and was quite content last season with doing basic things such as attacking the offensive glass, setting screens and cutting. By keeping things simple, Drummond averaged 13.8 points and 13.2 rebounds per 36 minutes.

Synergy Sports tells us the majority of his scoring came from offensive rebounds and cuts. The reason for that is simple: The 19-year-old always got himself near the basket no matter what.

Drummond never stood still. Instead, he opted to consistently get himself near the basket, where he is a lethal finisher. When the Pistons’ offense broke down with him on the floor, he had a knack for ending up with the ball near the hoop simply because he never stopped moving.

Look at the possession below:

The play results in Drummond catching the ball heading towards the basket and finishing despite the fact the play was not supposed to initially go to him. Detroit will occasionally struggle with their spacing, but provided they maintain some offensive discipline and remain in constant movement, the potential is there for a good offense with Smith on board.

38 Comments

  • Jul 18, 20139:24 am
    by smellman

    Reply

    This is a great post! I’m happy to see another more positive opinion which gives a bit of hope and excitement for next season!

    • Jul 18, 20139:46 am
      by mixmasta

      Reply

      I would have to agree with you. A fan would like to focus on positives while acknowledging the negatives.
      This keeps me excited to watch this roster even on the pre-season. I just hope Siva makes it to the team.

      • Jul 18, 201310:04 am
        by I HATE FRANK

        Reply

        You can argue Josh Smith actually could excel at SF vs PF….He would consistently have match-up advantages…theres only a few players physically that can match up with him.

        If josh Smith can become atleast a 34/35% 3 point shooter…He’s a guy that easily becomes a legit 20ppg scorer…I do think his rebounds will go down.

        Because of Drummond and Greg however, Josh then beomes more of a threat in transition.

        Alot of talk has circled around mid-range jumpers which is a concern, but beyond that…

        Drummond last year 37% FT at best his improvement will be around 50% shooting
        Greg last year 69% FT he needs to be around 75% or higher
        Joah Smith last year 52% FT….you cant be a go to guy shooting 52%….he shot 72% a couple years ago, but it has declined.

        Thats what needs to improve

        • Jul 18, 20136:09 pm
          by jeff m

          Reply

          I figured out Joe D’s reason for bring in Josh Smith. Joe D knows that Josh is a terrible shooter, but this doesn’t bother him because he knows that the more shots Josh misses, the more put backs Drummond will be able to convert into putbacks. See this is all a plan to raise Drummonds Pts per Game, and rebounds. :)

      • Jul 18, 201310:07 am
        by Blocks by Dre

        Reply

        I hope Siva does as well I like his game! But with Billups, Knight and Will the position is crowded unless Billups beats out Knight for starting PG and we move Knight to starting SG. Then Will can be our 6th man (a role he was good at last season) and we can keep Siva as an option if Billups (37 when season starts) gets injured. Will isn’t exactly a young gun neither (30) 

  • Jul 18, 201310:12 am
    by Matt

    Reply

    Nice analysis! Thanks! I’m somewhat reassured by the shooting volume stats. And hey, Monroe LEAD the league in restricted area shots? WOW.

  • Jul 18, 201310:28 am
    by I HATE FRANK

    Reply

    In the final video shows what an attacking and decisive Knight can do with some floor spacing…

    In the 2nd Video …is that the Pistons line-up is gonna look like to atleast start games…

    C Zaza = Drummond
    PF Horford = Monroe
    SF Josh Smith

    Zaza moved out of the lane creating space, although the defender barely came out of the box to defend him…it still created a lane.

    They had a shooter in the corner and a shooter on the wing… In that actually play Smith had the option of kicking it back to the Wing player for a 3 pts attempt…..

    Or even if smith pulls up and take the shot…. Horford is there to crash the offensive board, and even Zaza (aka Drummond could have a running start to crash the boards)….

    Or Switch and imagine…the same play with Drummond setting the pick for Josh smith , then rolling to the basket…. If would leave get with a open 15 footer on the baseline… 

    • Jul 18, 20134:03 pm
      by frankie d

      Reply

      big difference between atlanta’s jumbo offense and a possible detroit lineup with smith, drummond and monroe is horford’s ability to shoot with decent range.
      check the shooting numbers for monroe outside of the restricted area and his numbers are poor.
      on the other hand, horford’s numbers out to the 3 point line are pretty good, especially for a big man.  and while he didn’t take many 3 pointer -around 8 or so – he still shot .50% on them.
      as has been obvious for a while now: detroit’s ability to play drummond and monroe together depends on monroe – or drummond – being able to hit a 15 foot shot consistently.  if either can do that, that jumbo package might work with some creative offensive work.
      if he doesn’t hit that shot consistently – in horford’s range, somewhere around 42-44% – then any jumbo lineup, or any lineup with drummond and monroe just will not work. 

      • Jul 19, 20138:09 am
        by I HATE FRANK

        Reply

        @ Frankiei already know the numbers…. i posted them…

        But we also Treat Greg like he is a 8,9,10 year vet and sometimes forget he is only 23 years old…He has a nice touch, its about getting those reps in….

         in the past he was asked to play in the box more, so thats the skilled he focused on developing….

        Greg would pass on alot of open jumpers to get into the lane for a more comfortable shot….

  • Jul 18, 201311:15 am
    by I HATE FRANK

    Reply

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3bfHCd-VFts (3:12) they run the same play they did in the 2nd video against a much better defensive team

    Of corse this was an exceptional game all around…but i look up the stats 13-27 / 3-9 for 3′s 5tos

    but the Celtics tried to defend Josh smith is Pierce, Brandon Bass, Green and Garnett …

    He plays on the wing and in the box…. it gives you an idea what he can do

    So players you have to take the bad with very very good…

    • Jul 18, 20131:26 pm
      by oats

      Reply

      The Pacers are better defensively than the Celtics. The Pacers were the best defensive in the league last year.

      • Jul 19, 20137:58 am
        by I HATE FRANK

        Reply

        I said the 2nd video..they are playing the lakers

  • Jul 18, 201312:44 pm
    by Crispus

    Reply

    This will be easy guys, Charlie V will just teach Drummond how to shoot 47% from three and we’ll be set.

    I thought the last video showed how much the Pistons offense stumbled and milled before every shot last season. Lowe’s Grantland breakdowns were pretty eye opening, but then again I already knew how bad Monroe was at D from watching like 3 games.

    There may be some discord in the frontcourt, but maybe that is seriously why Dumars isn’t amnestying CV. CV at stretch 4 could allow two of the three starting bigs to play closer to the basket on offense.

    • Jul 18, 201312:58 pm
      by ToddM

      Reply

      This is what bugs me — Villaueva isn’t a stretch 4.  Yes, he can hit the three some days, but he’s in no way a defender at the 4, as he gets out-muscled and has slow feet and guys rebound right through him.

      Charlie is a big guy that can shoot outside, but if he’s on the court with only a center and guards/wings, it essentially just means we’re playing with one less guy with any big man skills on defense.  If ”stretch 4″ means “stretch our defense to the point that it sucks”, then yeah, he’s  one of those. 

      • Jul 18, 20131:55 pm
        by Pistons87

        Reply

        A stretch 4 is a PF with 3PT range.  Defense is not part of the equation for many stretch 4′s.

      • Jul 18, 20132:14 pm
        by Crispus

        Reply

        If Monroe is on the floor we’re playing with one less guy with any big man skills on defense. I’m just saying CV can alleviate some spacing problems on offense. As far as defense, have Smith switch onto the 4 and have Chas do his best on the other team’s SF. It ain’t perfect, but if we keep him, we should use him.

        • Jul 18, 20134:14 pm
          by Max

          Reply

          Monroe is one of the best defensive rebounders in the league.   That is a defensive skill.   He also is one of the better thieves for a big man.  

  • Jul 18, 201312:55 pm
    by Otis

    Reply

    Yes, they will “occasionally” struggle with floor spacing. 82 occasions come to mind…

  • Jul 18, 20131:25 pm
    by ffz

    Reply

    Jason maxiell got signed to a two year deal with the magic

  • Jul 18, 20131:41 pm
    by Rodman4Life

    Reply

    Ironically, I bet Charlie V does have a big year. I’m guessing about 8ppg over 18 minutes.

  • Jul 18, 20131:45 pm
    by Corey

    Reply

    So many people are agonizing about potential spacing issues, but there is an obvious solution. We’ll just have to see if the Pistons are smart enough to go with it. But I suspect they are – many of the roster moves are leaning in this direction. The advantage is that any 2 of Detroit’s 3 top bigs can play together at PF/C. So they can all get 30+ minutes/game without having to work the spacing of all 3 of them on the court.

    In reality, we’ll probably start Smith at SF so they can all say they’re starters.  But if Monroe plays half his minutes at C, Smith can play the majority of his minutes at PF.  Problem solved. And to those that say “but you can’t play all 3 together at the end of the game”, I say that the minutes where two of Drummond/Smith/Monroe are eating the other team’s backup PF or C alive count on the scoreboard just the same as the last 3 minutes. And until/unless Dre improves his free throw shooting, he may have to get pulled sometimes. 

    Lastly, I agree with the poster talking about them keeping CV to be a stretch 4.  I’m not remotely a fan, but he DID prove last year that he’s useful in spacing the floor with Drummond. A lineup with Drummond at C and Smith at SF would really work with two guards who can shoot and CV to provide spacing. And as long as the other team has one PF or C who sucks, there’s someone for CV to pretend to guard without killing us. 

    Now, if they put Bynum, Stuckey, Smith, Monroe, and Drummond all out there together, the other team will just put all 5 guys in the paint and laugh. Healthy doses of some combination of BK, Billups, KCP, Datome, Singler, Middleton, CV can make this work.

  • Jul 18, 20131:49 pm
    by ffz

    Reply

    im pretty sure Charlie v is just an average 3pt shooter , look at his percentage

  • Jul 18, 20132:39 pm
    by The Golden Child

    Reply

    Shifting not-static lineup is what i see coming. That means that our game-starting look might seem a little shooting-light, but with the three bigs (smith, drummond, monroe) our two shooters should have some open looks. As the 9 minute mark of quarter 1 approaches, our first big will sub out as well as a guard (probably), that means Luigi (i refuse to call him gigi), KCP, Knight, Billups or maybe Singler is coming in. Each time we make substitutions it is a new variation which will create different stat opportunities for each player. Open looks will be created, fast break opportunities, etc. In other words, when people describe how our team will function (ie Josh will suck at this and have no spacing for that) they seem to come at it from the perspective of a single, fixed, starting lineup. 
    Here are the things I know will be true about our team based on the personel we have.
    1. We will rebound. We have big, athletic guys who seems interested in getting after the ball. This includes offensive rebounds where we are likely to get a lot of chances if our guys have the low shooting %’s that some of them have previously posted. Missed shots means more chances for offensive rebounds, naturally.
    2. We will fast break. Other than monroe and maybe billups, the rest of our team seems lean, athletic, young and fast. That means we will…
    3. We will counterattack. When teams miss shots our bigs will give outlets to guys like Bynum, KCP, Datome, Mitchell and others who can run.
    4. You ask, how will we counter-attack if our defense has slow-footed defenders out of position (such as recent articles have described monroe). To that I answer: You can’t teach size. Okay, I’m being coy. But if you have slow, tall guys backed by athletic shot blockers (we have tripled that number from just Drummond to drummond + mitchell +smith and I think Datome might surprise some folks) then they can chase people off of jump shots and make them put the ball on the floor. And with wing defenders like Smith (when he does), KCP and maybe Datome and Knight who is fast and underrated as a defender (his defensive stats are actually good) then they can also pressure and chase down opposing shooters. So, enemy player A has a jump shot from three and Piston B closes quickly, taking away the jump shot but turning into a cone that player A dribbles around and dives into the lane…where he is met by big dudes and shot-blockers. I just imagine that opposing teams will experience some chaos. Drummond has the “big ben” effect on opposing offensive players. Those guys dive toward the basket, see Monroe and often don’t even attempt floaters, they TURN AROUND and leave the paint.
    5. The team will play as a team. With Wallace, Billups and Cheeks encouraging them and setting the tone, the team will play as an inside-outside team. We will go into the post. We will defend the post. Players will likely give up their own looks to help their teammates out (this may all be more hope on my part but it seems logical to me).
    6. The team will have leadership. For the same reason as 5, the older, experienced players with championships will coach/lead this team and help the young’ns to focus and hopefully play better.
    7. They will hunger for a playoff spot. Every person associated with the team now seems to have that single-minded focus (not singler-minded, lol). Gores has said “do or die.” Joe now says “do or die.” Players have jobs (bigs need to do big things, smalls need to do shooting or passing or whatever they were signed for). The team seems like a group of people all now working to achieve the same goal. A coach like Maz Trakh, who many may overlook, fits with our other “counselor” coaches, each supporting the players to help them achieve the growth they need to become a successful group/team.
    8. They will have options. If players don’t work out, contracts don’t work out, etc then this team has talented pieces that can and will be moved. Two players on expiring contracts are there. More free agent money can exist for next year.
    9. They have a chance. Look, if you want to keep Andre Drummond then he needs to experience two things. 1) the playoffs which means playing with talented help (look no further than Lebron to understand that nobody can or wants to do it alone). 2)That palace sparkle. I don’t know what else to call it, but I refer to that feeling the players get when they play for a rabid fan base in a sold-out building and get cheered for and revered. He needs to have the special connection that comes from the fan base loving you and buying your jersey and asking you to sign their dog with a sharpie. Billups has that. I think deep down Rasheed does too. And ben. Rip, I dunno, that guy went out weird and negative style. ANd prince? Maybe someday, we will see.
    10. The players see something we don’t. Billups came back. Smith signed with us. Rasheed wants to be involved. Datome came (he said because Drummond is a big center who will create room Datome can use to shoot). National writers are writing about us as more than a hot mess that spent a lot of cash. And we are interesting, people see potential here and I suspect it is all, deep down, due to two things. Drummond, a superstar center in the making is here (more likeable than dwight, more effective than most, prefers to dunk rather than get cute) and Gores. I know, what? Gores!? Yes, because he did something bold…he didn’t equivocate. He is pushing them to develop more, faster. He is that driving force. And I think what we fear is what others actually see is good: The Pistons aren’t waiting to “develop” or “get better,” they are hungry and going after it. Hunger is what it takes.
    I’m a positive fan. I like what one guy said above: Look for the positives and acknowledge the negatives. I don’t need anyone to bring me down, man. I can watch a pistons loss and that feeling takes care of itself.  I see pieces moving into position. I see hope. I see pride. I see potential. I am willing to go along on that ride and see where it ends up. What is the worst thing that could happen? You become Milwaukee and go 20 years between uptick eras that last 1-2 seasons.
    This is all just my take, feel free to point out how stupid and wrong I am. Feel free to say nice things too, I like them even more.

    • Jul 18, 20133:35 pm
      by mixmasta

      Reply

      I wish there was a like button somewhere in here.

      • Jul 18, 20134:10 pm
        by Desolation Row

        Reply

        Actually, that’d be pretty cool if they had an upvote comment system like on Reddit. That way a lot of the dumb posts would drop off and better comments could be encouraged through crowd-sourced favor.

        @Dan and @Patrick — if you were using Ruby on Rails, I’d be able to set that up for you fairly quickly. But this looks to be a PHP site :( Consider an upvote system though, I think it’d reduce your stress levels with some of the lackluster comments that creep in.

        • Jul 19, 20138:34 am
          by labatts

          Reply

          I’ve actually found the exact opposite to be true.  People will post an intelligent, thoughtful post (not me, mind you), and people will downvote it simply because they disagree.  Then, some knucklehead will post “Boohyah!”  and get 20 upvotes.  

          Honestly, I think it really takes away from the intelligent conversations and makes it more of a popularity contest. 

    • Jul 19, 20138:16 am
      by I HATE FRANK

      Reply

      Very long but very True…I’ve said it several times…

      Theres little to no downside signing josh…

      If we sign Igpudala people would complaining about his age and that he cant shoot
      If we signed Tyreke they’d ball him a Stuckey-Clone that cant shoot

  • Jul 18, 20132:44 pm
    by The Golden Child

    Reply

    Whoops, meant they see Drummond and turn around, leave the paint, not monroe. Ooops!
    And another thing is…we are going to win more games for a variety of reasons and that alone will be better. I predict playoff spot 7.

  • Jul 18, 20132:52 pm
    by just a fan

    Reply

    We say goodbye to longtime piston J.Maxiell 

  • Jul 18, 20132:54 pm
    by Einstein

    Reply

    Wow….a positive post on Piston Powered. Don’t let Feldman see it!

  • Jul 18, 20132:55 pm
    by Einstein

    Reply

    Golden Child – please, no dissertations in the future

    • Jul 18, 20138:41 pm
      by The Golden Child

      Reply

      Thanks for the props. Although it was only my opening monologue. I have some REALLY deep thoughts for you if you are interested…might want to get a feeding tube though…this could be a while. 
      lol

  • Jul 18, 20134:06 pm
    by Big G

    Reply

    We’ll be a playoff team, but I think trading Monroe for the right package might make us a real complete/whole team because right now we’re terribly unbalanced.

    Perhaps trading Monroe/Knight for Lillard/Mathews? We add our three point shooting and secure a PG that is a good passer. We now have suddenly great floor spacing with lillard, kcp, mathews, and datome and a great defensive power house at drummond and smith.

  • Jul 18, 20134:42 pm
    by just a fan

    Reply

    Unless Portland is ran by a bunch of dumbasses who in there right might would accept that deal 

  • Jul 19, 20131:12 am
    by Wolverines23

    Reply

    I think people are too worried about how the starting lineup will work. But imagine what the lineup will look when Monroe or Drummond or even Smith go to the bench, that is where we will excel. We can set the defensive tone early to start games with the starting lineup, but really put a stamp on games when one of them is sitting.

    There are just a number of possibilities, which will obviously be figured out during training camp and throughout the season, but it’s exciting.

    Without Monroe:
    Knight
    KCP
    Gigi
    Josh Smith
    Drummond 

    Billups, KCP, Middleton, Smith, Drummond
    Bynum, Stuckey, Singler, Smith, Drummond
    Knight, Stuckey, Gigi, Smith, Drummond
    Siva, Middleton, Singler, Smith, Drummond
    Siva, KCP, Middleton, Smith, Drummond 

    Without Drummond:
    Billups, Knight, Gigi, Smith, Monroe
    Knight, KCP, Middleton, Smith, Monroe
    etc.

    Without Smith:
    Billups, Knight, Gigi/Middleton/Singler, Monroe, Drummond
    Knight, KCP, Gigi, Monroe, Drummond 
    Bynum, Stuckey, Singler, Monroe, Drummond

    So many possibilities/flexibility with the lineup, which ever group is plays the best together, simply plays in the 4th quarter. We shouldn’t be so keen on this is our starting 5, and these are the guys who will get the most minutes everyday.

    My fav lineup (the one I think will be most fun/competitive) would be:

    Brandon Knight, KCP, Gigi, Josh Smith, Andre Drummond (we’ve got 3 good 3point shooters, great defenders in Knight, KCP, Smith, and Drummond, not sure about Gigi yet, we get a good athletic lineup, who can dominate in transition and simply out run the other teams). 

    In terms of the starting lineup, I loved it when Chauncey announced that he expects to start at PG this season, but to me this seems more of psychological move towards Brandon Knight who really has to earn his starting spot, and that’s what Joe D, Coach Mo, and Billups might be planning. Chauncey has never been a selfish player and especially this late in his career he won’t mind coming off the bench, but for him to say that it lets Knight know that he really has to work hard each and everyday, or else he will be replaced by a proven vet. If Chauncey does start, I would expect Knight to come off the bench and play hard every game. Really hope KCP improves and starts immediately for us at the 2 instead of Knight. That being said, I think this is the year where Brandon Knight will finally show his true potential and will eventually earn his spot as point guard (can be in training camp as well, all depends on how he performs). 

  • Jul 19, 20136:30 am
    by acr

    Reply

    niece piece.  I’m really intrigued by the possibilities of a front court of smith, drummond, and monroe – w even if they don’t ultimately play the bulk of their minutes at the same timewit with defense ands rebounding they have a chance to be dominate (with smith and drummond covering monroe’s deficiencies).  On offense, all three have a plus passing ability for froncourt players that really intrigues me. Some type of spread high p

  • Jul 19, 20136:37 am
    by acr

    Reply

    niece piece.  I’m really intrigued by the possibilities of a front court of smith, drummond, and monroe –  even if they don’t ultimately play the bulk of their minutes at the same time with defense and rebounding they have a chance to be dominant (with smith and drummond covering monroe’s deficiencies).  On offense, all three have a plus passing ability for froncourt players that really intrigues me. Some type of spread high post offense that allows them to attack the rim and crash the boards from different angles could be both fun to watch and help diminish any spacing issues.  wow, no more iphone posts from me, the autocorrect goes crazy whenever I post here for some reason.

  • Jul 19, 201312:38 pm
    by T Casey

    Reply

    I’d love to see us play an uptempo game from start to finish this year. We’ve got a lot o size, but our bigs can all run the floor better than almost anyone at their respective positions. I say, use those young legs to run teams into the ground while playing tough defense. Very few teams would have an answer for that every game with the amount of athletic finishers we have.

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