The tipping point was Monday, December 22, when the Detroit Pistons waived Josh Smith. This magically coincided with a stretch that has brought the Pistons from a 5-23 cellar dweller competing for the right to draft Jahlil Okafor to a team sitting at 14-24, just two games out of the eight seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Smith was shooting 39% from the field and taking 14 shots per game, 2.5 more per game than any other player on the team. No matter how you slice it, getting rid of a player taking that many shots and shooting that poorly can only increase your team’s offensive efficiency, but it doesn’t bring a team to the level of a 9-1 record over their last 10 games.
As you can see above, Detroit’s shooting percentages went up almost everywhere on the floor. Many of the zones are now in the green, indicating above average shooting percentages. Though it is only 480 minutes, the breakdown of their shots also changed. Stan Van Gundy has seemingly used his Smith-less lineups to help space the floor, fixing one of the biggest issues the team faced with Smith.
In the Smith days, the Pistons were shooting 14.2% of their shots from the inefficient mid-range and it has fallen to 12% while three-pointers have jumped from 26.9% of their shots to 32.7%. Some of the shooting percentages aren’t sustainable. Detroit won’t continue to shoot 55% from the top of the arc or 53.3% from the right corner. However, there is a good chance the shooting will get better from the left corner, mitigating some of the loss.
Jonas Jerebko would seem to be the reason for the turn around because of the strong increase in minutes with Smith gone. Jerebko is actually performing worse (ever so slightly) with an increased workload, but he still offers much great spacing than Smith did.
The secret is a timely jump in quality from Brandon Jennings and a return to form (and from injury) of Jodie Meeks. Jennings has been given a large share of the scoring load and is taking 16.6 shots per game compared to 11.5 per game prior to the streak. To go along with the increase in shots, he’s on one of his patented hot streaks; shooting 47% from the field and 42.2% from three-point range. This streak has jumped his points per game from 12.6 to 20.3.
Meeks, along with D.J. Augustin1 and Andre Drummond2 , has brought the team around with his spacing and improved play in general. He is shooting a blistering 44.7% from deep while taking 4.7 threes per game. That doesn’t include how well Meeks shoots from the line…95.2%.
In 28 games to start the season, Detroit had an offensive rating of 97.6 and a defensive rating of 105.8, resulting in -8.2 net rating. The post-Smith Pistons have improved on both sides of the ball as well, flipping the script to a tune of a +13.1 net rating (110.1 offensive and 97.0 defensive). The team’s pace has also increased by about 3 possessions per 48 minutes.
Overall, the Pistons have really found their stride and are storming toward a playoff spot with wins over Cleveland, Indiana, San Antonio, Dallas, and Toronto. The only loss over this 10 game stretch has been to conference dominating Atlanta.