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Grading The Deal: Pistons Sign Josh Smith

With ample cap space to sign Dwight Howard or Chris Paul, but not quite enough attractive pieces to get a meeting, the Detroit Pistons zeroed in on Josh Smith. 

Smith has been one of the NBA’s most polarizing players due to his two-way play, versatility, unquestioned talent and propensity to excessively shoot three-pointers and long jumpers. For a player that is so good at the rim, a career effective field goal percentage of .480 is beyond frustrating.

The Pistons had to use their cap space on somebody and the fit of Smith splitting his minutes between small forward and power forward will give Maurice Cheeks some interesting lineup combinations. The Pistons’ three best players are all in the frontcourt in Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, and Cheeks will be able to keep at least two of them on the floor at nearly all times. Smith can play power forward in a smaller lineup when either Drummond or Monroe are resting, but the jumbo lineup will be the most fascinating for the Pistons to experiment with.

In playing Smith, Monroe and Drummond together, floor spacing on offense will be a serious issue since the Pistons lacked quality shooters even before his arrival, but the prospect of completely taking away the paint on the defensive end offsets their own points per possession drop. The Indiana Pacers and San Antonio Spurs were able to neutralize the Miami Heat with that type of strategy and the Pistons have more pure defensive talent than those two teams if they can figure out their scheme. 

The NBA is clearly going more and more in the direction of smallball, but without the pieces to do it as effectively as teams like the Heat and Golden State Warriors, the Pistons will have more success in building a counter to the trend.

Dumars spoke of Smith’s versatility and made a comparison to LeBron James in terms of playing virtually any position on the floor and while he isn’t as good of a scorer and suffers from poor shot selection, he is a gifted passer. Smith has had an assist percentage of over 20 percent in each of the past two seasons, which gives the Pistons two of the best passing bigs in the NBA along with Monroe.

The addition of Smith will give the Pistons a chance of the playoffs, particularly if the backcourt production improves in Brandon Knight and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

In the long run, the Pistons’ chances of ever getting out of the second round are dependent on how Drummond develops. Smith is a good complement to Drummond and could slide over to heavy minutes at power forward should the Pistons trade Monroe or lose him next offseason in restricted free agency.

Grade for Pistons: A 

Smith called the Pistons his only option in free agency and he did find the market softer than some were expecting. Smith never seemed to be the type of player that would take less money, but it would have been very interesting to see him join the Houston Rockets along with Dwight Howard. Smith would have then become the third option behind top-10 players Howard and James Harden instead of option 1C that we’ve become so familiar with during his time playing beside top-30 players in Al Horford and Joe Johnson.

Smith took the most money available to him with the Pistons and unlike Al Jefferson with the Charlotte Bobcats, there is enough talent and upside with Drummond for more first and second round opportunities in the near and intermediate future.

Grade for Josh Smith: B

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