For a long time now, Josh Smith's affinity for shooting jumpers so poorly has been the butt of jokes. It's been such that maybe Smith has been unfairly judged. Basketball nerds or casual fans keep highlighting the biggest flaw of a unique basketball player, a guy who at the very least stuffed the box score in his best days.
But there's no joking around about his performances in his second season with the Detroit Pistons. Smith's coach, Stan Van Gundy, had enough on Wednesday night, benching the starting small forward for the final 16 minutes of an 88-86 loss to the Phoenix Suns.
Smith ended the night playing just 23 minutes, a season-low in a season of lows. Van Gundy told the Detroit Free Press that the decision was about playing the lineup he thought would finish strong.
"I like the guys we had on the court. I liked the energy they were bringing," Van Gundy said. "My decision was just based on the guys I thought tonight gave us the best chance."
Van Gundy's decision also led to a mild verbal exchange with Smith during the game. It put a bigger spotlight on the forward's season so far, and a closer look is not pretty. The Pistons are 11.1 points per 100 possessions better with Smith on the bench, the worst mark among the nine Pistons who have played 10 or more games through a 3-9 start, according to NBA.com.
It's not only about his offense, which we'll get to in a second.
Van Gundy ended Smith's night on Wednesday just after a final straw, a failed closeout on Suns forward P.J. Tucker. Tucker is far from an offensive savant, but he's a capable spot-up shooter that finished the night going 6-for-8 from the field. All of his shots were jumpers, yet Smith was the one defender who allowed the offensively-limited Tucker to shoot with confidence.
That could clue us in to some of Smith's defensive issues.
Offensively, it's easier to find the problems. They're the ones that are the butt of all those jokes.
The Pistons shoot 39.2 percent when Smith is playing, the worst shooting percentage with one player on the court aside from rookie Spencer Dinwiddie, who has only played in two games so far, according to NBA.com. When Smith is benched, Detroit shoots 46 percent, easily leading the off-court statistics for a single player. A lot of this has to do with the Pistons still grappling with a big lineup that includes Smith, Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe. It hasn't helped that Drummond is failing to shoot 40 percent despite all of his shots coming inside.
Still, Smith's poor shooting is mind-bogglingly poor. When he's not shooting threes, his mid-range percentages hover around 32 percent and account for 57 percent of his looks. Even tossing in free throws, shots at the rim and considering Smith's three-point attempts are down from the last two years, his true shooting percentage is a miserable 39.7 percent. That is down from last season's 46.3 percent, which itself is the only other season it's fallen below 50 percent.
So far, the Pistons and Smith haven't found a way to make it work. That might be why the forward was popular in trade rumors this summer. As it becomes more clear that a fix is necessary for Van Gundy to turn it around in his first year on the job, it's obvious that Smith is not making it easy on Detroit to find traction. His $13.5 million owed to him annually through the 2016-17 season isn't making him an attractive trade piece.
All those jokes about Smith's jumper will continue to be made. This season more than ever, they've accurately depicted a major problem.