Josh Smith and the trouble with staying what you are

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The athletic forward is off to a slow start in Detroit because of the same problems that have plagued him throughout his career.

Nothing Joe Dumars said was explicitly incorrect. When the Pistons inked Josh Smith to a four-year, $56 million contract this past summer, the Detroit GM glowed like a man who just pulled off the most impressive sales job of his life.

Dumars raved about Smith's versatility. He lauded the way Smith could vacillate between each forward spot and excel at both ends of the floor. He was enthralled with his athleticism. Still a few months shy of his 28th birthday, Dumars' commitment made sense in a vacuum for the only player in league history to have career averages of at least 15 points, seven rebounds, three assists, two blocks and a steal per game, per STATS LLC.

While Dumars gloated, it wasn't difficult to question how everything in Detroit would fit together. Now barely over two months into his first year with the Pistons, Smith is off to a terribly slow start. He's struggling to find his role within the Pistons and might already have the team experiencing buyer's remorse.

It only took seven games for the grace period to wear off, when Smith played just 18 minutes in a loss to the Golden State Warriors. Five games later, Smith missed an impromptu practice after a road loss in his hometown of Atlanta (he said he was spending time with his sick father) and was pulled out of the starting lineup for the next day at home against the Hawks. A month later, Smith stayed tethered to the bench the entire second half as Detroit fell to the Wizards because coach Maurice Cheeks didn't think he was playing hard enough.

Smith didn't appreciate his coach's evaluation of his effort. But if effort isn't Josh Smith's problem this season, performance is. Right now, Smith is having one of the worst jump shooting seasons the NBA has ever seen.

Smith enters the weekend dead last in the NBA in points per shot, and he's got a comfortable cushion at the bottom. He's taking nearly four threes per game and is making only 24.8 percent of them. That's last in the league and historically inept: no one has ever taken over 300 threes (Smith is on-pace to take 311) and made less than 26.9 percent of them.


Tuesday's loss to the Knicks provided the definitive moment in Smith's season-long lowlight reel. Down one with 15 seconds left, Smith got the ball in the post on the right side. He faced up Carmelo Anthony and fired a jumper that missed the rim by about two feet. He ended that game with 21 points and 12 rebounds, but also had eight turnovers.

Truth be told, Smith's drawbacks aren't anything new, but they're simply accentuated by a new contract and a roster he doesn't fit. The book on Smith has been out for a while: He's terrific at finishing at the rim, but settles for outside jumpers he has no business taking far too often. It's the case now more than ever.

Hoosier Hysteria

It's unfortunate, because there was a time when Smith displayed a limitless if hazy potential. He was big and fast, blessed with extraordinary hops and long arms. Smith entered the league out of high school the year Steve Nash transformed the Suns based around the ethos of pace and space offense. It was easy to envision Smith turning into a killer in that type of system, an amalgamation of the best parts of Amar'e Stoudemire and Shawn Marion.

It never happened, perhaps in part because of a lack of guidance. It's almost as if no one has ever told him no. Even at 28, he remains a rough facsimile of his 20-year-old self. The same problems that have been plaguing him for years -- namely, shot selection -- continue to be his downfall. It isn't a case of advanced statistics ruining what appears to be a good thing, either. Shooting percentage is on the back of a basketball card.

There's layers to every issue in the NBA, and it's not impossible to paint Smith as a victim of circumstance, albeit one for which he signed up. He's playing out of position now at small forward next to two nice young big men in Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe. The temptation to jack all of those threes wouldn't exist if he was playing inside instead of on the wing. It's also a symptom of Detroit's dire need for shooting. If he was a power forward on an up-tempo team, it's easy to imagine Smith using his speed to fly past defenders in the paint. Detroit only ranks No. 15 in the league in pace. Even in Atlanta, Smith's Hawks teams routinely finished among the 10 slowest teams in the league.


Allen Einstein/Getty Images

It all comes back to Dumars, and the ability to let one mistake to compound another. Why were the Pistons so eager to sign Josh Smith? Because the last time Dumars had cap space, he signed Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva to a combined $90 million. He had to include a first-round pick, protected in the top eight this year and unprotected in 2015, just to move Gordon's contract to Charlotte.  With his job also potentially on the line, there was incentive to try to get good quick.

There's hope in Detroit, even at 14-22. Drummond is as coveted a big man as there is in the game, and he's off to a tremendous season as a sophomore. But what should have been a great start to an organic rebuild with Drummond and Monroe has been jeopardized by a hastily put together contingency plan. Smith's contract looks like it might be the straw that broke the camel's back.

If things don't right themselves soon, a win-now mentality very well might cost Dumars his job.

More from SB Nation NBA:

Hoosier Hysteria: How the Pacers won back the heart of Indiana

Eberhardt: Explaining "two nine," or how big men patrol the paint

Eric Bledsoe needs knee surgery, out indefinitely

Meet the world's tallest pro basketball player

Power Rankings: Can Warriors join top 5? | Pictures: Dubs blend old with new

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