How Josh Smith hurt Detroit

3 minute read

How does Detroit go from just five wins in 28 games to a seven game winning streak? The Pistons run coincided with the team waiving Josh Smith. Does this mean Detroit are better without Smith or was it a fluke?

It’s still a mystery why Josh Smith shoots so many jumpers. Before the season began, Detroit looked like an underrated team, and rightly so — Van Gundy was well aware how Smith is best used — we all were.

“I think Josh has a very good understanding of the shots he needs to shoot that are not only best for him, but best for our team… He’s one of the elite guys in the league around the basket,” Van Gundy said.

For Smith to be successful, he needs to be a scoring threat at the rim. Perhaps this was always doomed to fail on a Detroit team with Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe pushing him out to the perimeter. In his time at Detroit, Smith was putting up more 3s than any other time in his career at 2.9 attempts per game. Compare this to 1.4 attempts per game in his nine seasons with Atlanta.

Alas, not only does Smith continue to take too many jumpers (and miss), but his shooting percentage close to the basket was down in his 28 games with the Pistons. When zero to three feet from the basket he was 58.6 percent — consider that he was 77.1 percent in 2013 and has a career average of 66.9 per cent from this range. His shooting was also down on shots from three to sixteen feet. Overall, Smith had the worst shooting performance of his career at Detroit with a field goal percentage of 39.1 this season.


Detroit won just five of 28 games (17.9 percent win rate) when Smith was waived December 22. Detroit went on a 7 game winning streak and have won 12 of their next 18 games (66.7 percent win rate). Is this just random chance or did Josh Smith single handedly make Detroit a bad team? When Smith was on the bench Detroit scored 108.7 points per hundred possessions compared to 97.3 when he was on the floor. His presence made Detroit 11.4 points worse off offensively. Detroit’s defensive rating also improved without Smith from 108.8 to 104.7.

In the first 28 games of the season before Smith was waived, Detroit was scoring 101.3 points per hundred possessions and allowing 108.6 points. In the next 18 games without him the offensive rating improved by 8.1 points to 109.4 — they also allowed 104.1 points per hundred possessions and were 4.5 points better off defensively.

Detroit hasn’t had an NBA All Star coming off the bench making them a better team. It seems the cause of Detroit’s early season troubles can be blamed on Smith. How did it go so wrong for Smith on both ends of the floor? We can can look at Dean Oliver’s four factors — the most important aspects of a game a team must control.

  1. Shooting percentage
  2. Turnovers per possession
  3. Offensive rebounding percentage
  4. Getting to the foul line

The effective field goal percentage of opponents was almost the same when Smith was on or off the floor. Teams didn’t really commit fewer turnovers when Smith was in the game either. Teams did grab 5.3 percent more offensive rebounds — offensive rebound percentage of an opposing team jumps from 21.9 to 27.2 percent when Smith is on the court. It isn’t exactly clear why Detroit was better defensively without Smith in the team. There is a dramatic shift in Detroit’s effective field goal percentage — 50 percent when Smith is out of the lineup compared to 44.4 percent when he’s on the floor. Smith’s poor shooting and shot selection is the key symptom to Detroit’s offensive struggles.

Its been an abrupt fall for Smith — from near max contract money to the waiver wire. But it starts to make more sense considering Smith’s presence made Detroit bad. Will Houston have the same problems with Smith, or will he overcome his shooting woes and make them better? What we know for certain — Josh Smith was never a good fit at Detroit.