Ish Smith’s Return will Help Pistons, But Won’t Solve All Issues

To say the Detroit Pistons are struggling would be a kind understatement. In their last 19 games, they have gone a brutal 4-15. In that stretch, they have beaten just one current playoff team, the Boston Celtics.

Performance across the roster has been sporadic outside of Blake Griffin. While he has led the charge on a nightly basis consistently, help for him has been hard to find.

A major issue for Detroit has been the bench. Injuries have plagued the roster throughout the season, disallowing continuity in rotations and playing time. Glenn Robinson III, Luke Kennard, Jon Leuer, Stanley Johnson, and Zaza Pachulia have all missed numerous games this season, and these are just players from the second unit alone. Reggie Bullock has missed eight games this year, too.

Yet the biggest loss for Detroit has been Ish Smith, who has been out since December 7th with a right adductor tear. Even though Smith was not having the best season, as his shooting percentages are down across the board, he’s averaging almost 1.5 fewer assists per game this season compared to last, and his player efficiency rating has dropped significantly.

However, he has still been effective providing a scoring threat and a change of pace style of play that the bench unit thrived in when he was leading the charge. On the season, he is a plus-2.5, the highest net rating on the roster by far. Langston Galloway is the only other player on the roster with a positive +/- net rating.

In his 22 games played this year, Smith has averaged 24.4 minutes per game, nearly splitting minutes with starting point guard, Reggie Jackson. Dwane Casey has relied heavily on Jose Calderon to play the minutes that Smith left in his absence, and the results have been as bad as you would think.

At the age of 37, Calderon is not the player that he once was.

While he was never an impactful defender, nowadays, he does not have the ability to defend in one-on-one situations due to his size and decrease in speed and ability to play physically. He has a defensive rating of 112, according to Basketball-Reference, compared to an offensive rating of just 96.

Offensively, it seems as if Detroit is playing four-on-five with him out there. He has had a few nice plays, and even a couple of games where he managed to generate a decent amount of assists, those performances have been few and far between. And don’t be fooled by Calderon’s rare exceptional pass, the team scores much worse when he is on the court. With him off the court, Detroit’s true shooting percentage sits at 54.4 percent. When he is on the court, their true shooting percentage drops all the way to 48.8 percent. That is the worst true shooting percentage in the league by 3.9 percent, as the New York Knicks own the league’s worst TS% at 52.7.

A stat that still makes me cringe to this day is that Calderon is the leading 3-point FG% shooter in Pistons’ history. Last season in Cleveland, he shot 46.4 percent from beyond the arc, on 5.2 attempts per game. This year, on 4.7 attempts per game, he is shooting a blinding 19.6 percent. His shooting ability is the sole reason he remains worthy of a roster spot in the league and as Dwane Casey would say, he hasn’t been able to “hit the side of the barn with a base fiddle,” this year. From the field, he is shooting a meager 34.3 percent with shots that aren’t from deep coming right at the rim, or the ever so efficient pull-up mid-range jump shot.

It is not an effort issue with him, as he genuinely tries on the court, but he just simply is not good enough anymore. He boasts a Minus-2.7 net rating, ahead of only Jon Leuer, Khyri Thomas, and Henry Ellenson in that category. That’s not exactly flattering company.

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Not that he was a top-notch third-string point guard last season, but Dwight Buycks was a much more capable option for Detroit when he was on the roster last year. In 14.7 minutes per game, the exact same amount of minutes Calderon is averaging, Buycks was just a much better player. He averaged 7.4 points on 41.4 percent shooting from the field and 33.3 percent shooting from distance. Calderon was a tad more efficient distributing wise, averaging 0.6 more assists on 0.5 fewer turnovers per game. However, Buycks’ scoring ability, efficiency and willingness to compete on the defensive end give him a clear cut edge. The Pistons waived Buycks in the offseason, clearing up a roster spot to eventually sign Calderon. He is now playing for the Shenzhen Leopards in the Chinese Basketball Association.  

The return of Smith will be a welcome boost to a team that has looked dead in the water since their shocking win over the Golden State Warriors to begin December. He is reportedly nearing a return after missing the last 16 games.

But the return of Ish Smith will not save this team. From top to bottom, there are issues. From rotations to effort, from offensive scheme to shot-making ability, there are issues. Detroit is underperforming, and believing that it is due solely to the absence of Ish Smith is just foolish. 

Getting Smith back will certainly help, but it does not erase the serious questions and concerns that have scourged this team all the way to ninth place in the Eastern Conference. That is quite a fall for a team that was talking hosting a playoff series before the season began.

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