Yesterday marked the dawn of a new era. In a move that left many fans and analysts stunned, Pistons Head Coach and President of Basketball Operations Stan Van Gundy waived forward Josh Smith, absorbing the remaining $26 million left on Smith’s contract along the way.
The move now slides the Pistons into a new, albeit vaguely familiar era. In ditching Smith, they split with a player who was shooting just 39.1% from the floor yet led his team in field goal attempts by a 68 shot margin. Add to that his 24.3% three-point shooting and 46.8% accuracy at the line and it becomes clear Smith was on the verge of something morbidly special.
Had Smith carried his putrid offensive numbers through the entire season, he would have joined an elite list. Here’s a breakdown of every player in NBA history who’s played at least 500 minutes, taken at least 14 shots per game and still managed a total shooting percentage below 42%:
That’s it. He’s the only one. Had Smith continued his shooting trend throughout the rest of the ’15 campaign, he may have gone down as having had the worst shooting season in the history of professional basketball.
Alas, Smith is no longer a Detroit Piston. He’s gone. What’s done is done. The question now shifts to where Stan Van Gundy and company go from here. Let’s take a look.
The New Lineup
With Smith exiting stage left, a level of simplification has swept over the Pistons’ depth chart. Gone is the perplexing quandary of what to do with three starting-caliber big men trying to squeeze in two available starting positions. We’re now left with a cleaner looking nine-man rotation featuring more clearly defined roles:
Most noticeably, Greg Monroe will regains his spot in the starting lineup. In the short term, this should be beneficial to the Pistons, as Monroe’s their leading scorer despite playing just 29 minutes a night. An increased role and the elimination of position-sharing may theoretically lead to a heavier offensive contribution.
In the long term, sliding Monroe back into the starting lineup won’t guarantee he’ll re-sign with the Pistons at the end of the season, but it may open him back up to the idea. Many other factors may still have to fall into place (namely, the Pistons improving as a team) but hoping to retain Monroe while bringing him off the bench was an unlikely proposition. Reinserting him into the starting lineup is a step in the right direction.
If nothing else, the removal of Smith from the lineup will be addition by subtraction. Those 14 shots a night will have to go somewhere and really, if even 44% of those new attempts can be knocked down, it’ll be a marked improvement.
Moreover, the removal of Smith’s sub-50% success rate from the line means the Pistons have split the number of historically bad free throw shooters on their team in half (you’ve successfully defended your title, Mr. Drummond).
On the other side of the coin, the Pistons are suddenly light off bench in the frontcourt. This likely means a job promotion for Joel Anthony. Having appeared in just 10 of his team’s 28 games, Anthony is the only other true big men left on the roster beyond Drummond and Monroe.
Undoubtedly, Jonas Jerebko will receive an extended look at the 3 and 4 position moving forth. His recent play, averaging 9 points over his last four games in just over 15 minutes a night, may have given Van Gundy the confidence needed to ultimately pull the trigger on Smith’s release.
Who Else is on the Chopping Block?
With Van Gundy’s gutsy move to drop Josh Smith and absorb the $26 million he’s due, the message seems clear: if you’re not helping, you’re probably going. With that, is there anyone else who may soon be shown the door?
All signs point to yes, if Van Gundy can find a worthy suitor. Various Pistons trade rumors involving Smith, Brandon Jennings and Greg Monroe were reported last week. With Smith now removed from the equation and Monroe denying such rumors, Jennings appears to be alone as the next in line.
The case against Jennings revolves around his status as a point guard who often appears to have little interest in playing point guard. Currently averaging a career low in points (12.6) and shooting just 36.8% from the field (including a recent five game stretch where he made just 20% of his attempts), Jennings’ struggles may be the inadvertent reason as to why he currently remains a Piston.
As in the case of Smith, there’s a fair chance Van Gundy has been actively pursuing trades for Jennings. However, with Jennings’ market value likely at an all-time low, the opportunity to facilitate a trade that may benefit the Pistons heading into the future is vastly diminished.
While Jennings’ trade value likely eclipses that of Smith’s, and while Jennings is very unlikely to be give the waiver treatment, a deal may be difficult to strike, perhaps running up against the trade deadline (February 19) before things get serious. However, if the Pistons experience an emergency void in the frontcourt, the pressure to make a deal may increase.
A New Beginning
Short term, the new Pistons may have a lot in common with the old Pistons. Josh Smith was hardly the sole issue facing the franchise. The losses will likely continue to mount. However, as pieces form the whole, Stan Van Gundy will carry on shaping this team, one piece at a time. Slowly, but surely.