Joe Dumars spent big bucks over the offseason to bring in Josh Smith. The trio of Smith, Greg Monroe, and Andre Drummond is formidable on paper. They can all score inside, rebound, block shots, and generally be large human beings. Individually, they are each getting theirs. However, the three have not been performing well as a unit. Why isn't Detroit's frontcourt working as well as some hoped?
The largest reason, I think, is that defensively, all three have been minuses at their position. Josh Smith has trouble chasing guys around the perimeter, Greg Monroe has a tenancy to get lost and struggles with team defense (though he probably doesn't get the credit he deserves when he's able to go one-on-one with an opponent), and most surprisingly, Andre Drummond has looked quite lost himself. That shouldn't be surprising considering he's only 20 years old, but the team was counting on him to cover a lot of mistakes, and he obviously has the athletic gifts to get things done, but he's still very much in the early stages of learning how to play quality NBA defense.
Offensively, all three players are doing quite well at doing what they do best -- scoring in the paint (No. 1 in the NBA) and on the break (No. 2). But they can't do the things they need to do to win games. When the defense clamps down late the already average Detroit offense self destructs. The team as a whole can't hit 3s (last in NBA), free throws (last in NBA) or mid-range jump shots. And it doesn't help that the defensively challenged Brandon Jennings goes from a nice facilitator for three quarters and becomes turnover prone and shot happy when the going gets tough and the decision-making gets harder.
Considering all of these factors, It is no surprise that the Pistons get outscored by 12.1 points per 100 possessions in the fourth quarter, by far the worst mark in the league.
One of the major knocks that has followed Smith around throughout his career has been his propensity to settle for long 2-point attempts. Early on, it seemed as though J-Smoove was going to kick his old habits. Yet, it seems that he has reverted to his old ways. Is this a result of Smith's bad habits or Mo Cheeks' system and a clogged middle?
He has reverted to his old ways with a bullet! The move to small forward has given defenses free reign to sag off of Smith and give him an open jumper. And Smith is not a player that seems to want to force the issue, he's going to take what defenses are giving him. And they are giving him 3s and, oh boy, is he taking them. He's on pace to more than double his previous season high in 3-point attempts. And he's also on pace to deliver the worst 3-point performance in NBA history. You can read all about it in my thoroughly depressing article, Josh Smith: Worst 3-point shooter since ... ever? Cheeks' system has not done much to discourage Smith's propensity to jack up shots he shouldn't take, though lately he's been spending more time at power forward so the pace of his 3-point shooting is starting to slow.
Brandon Jennings was another big get last summer. He has shown flashy moments and has a career high in assists per game. But his numbers are about average or slightly lower than his career numbers. Where has Jennings excelled and where does he need to improve?
I'm in a dwindling minority that still supports the trade for Brandon Jennings. He replaced Brandon Knight who proved pretty conclusively that he is not a starting NBA point guard, if a point guard at all. Jennings has brought with him a much-needed infusion of passing ability, and the ability to run the break. But with that comes everything else Jennings usually offers -- poor fundamental defense with a reliance on steal attempts, a streaky shot and only so-so finishing ability. He's trying to be more of a facilitator and decision-maker this year and his offense has really suffered. It doesn't help that his teammates can't convert the wide open outside shots he's able to provide, but he's also still trying to understand when to pass and when to shoot. The results have been poor more often than they've been good, but I think it's a project worth investing in and if he ever figures it out, he has the talent to be a very good NBA point guard.
All that being said, we'd really, really appreciate it if you'd let us have Jose Calderon back. That 45 percent 3-point shooting and 4-to-1 assist to turnover ratio would look awfully nice on this Pistons team. We'll take the defensive limitations and long-term contract, thank you very much.
One of the major issues that has plagued the Pistons has been their defense. They allow teams to shoot over 50 percent on 2-pointers and over 36 percent on 3-pointers. Why has their defense proved to be ineffective?
As mentioned above, the biggest surprise is the poor defense. Coach Cheeks was supposedly a defense-first coach and Josh Smith was supposed to be a big upgrade. Unfortunately, Cheeks' defensive game plan seems completely at odds with today's NBA. He seems to favor protecting the paint at the expense of the 3-point line, has his bigs show big time on pick and rolls, which causes a bunch of scrambling and late rotations (and easy shots at the rim for the opponent). And Smith, as mentioned, has had a terrible time guarding the perimeter. Small forwards have been lighting him up all year, especially from deep. He has a habit of letting himself get sucked into the paint where the action is and that often leaves his man wide open. Simply, he's a power forward and not a small forward. Essentially, the Pistons have four defensive minuses in their starting lineup: Jennings, Smith, Monroe and Drummond. Thank goodness for rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who has played excellent defense on his man all year. Now he just needs a little help.
Drummond is improving slightly as the year goes on, and Smith is playing less and less small forward but the defense as a whole remains dreadful and seems to be getting worse. A smart team can pick them apart pretty easily, the team doesn't make adjustments, and I think most of that falls on the coach.
How long until Drummond and Tony Mitchell star in a buddy cop drama with Sheed as the commissioner? I would totally watch that.
You remember that scene in Fight Club where Edward Norton goes to his "happy place" and it's an ice cave with a penguin? I enjoy this buddy cop idea so much that the next time I see the Pistons squander a fourth-quarter lead, or see Josh Smith attempt consecutive long jumpers with plenty of time on the shot clock, I am going to go to this new happy place you've created for me. Thank you for that.