June 21, 2014 at 9:43 pm

Vincent Goodwill

Using Josh Smith off bench might be perfect fix to Pistons' front-court quandary

Barring unforeseen circumstances, the first draft of the Stan Van Gundy regime likely will be uneventful.

But the rest of the summer shouldn’t follow suit.

The 38th pick could bear some fruit in a deep draft. The high expectations that came with having high picks in the last few years won’t accompany this player, although the Pistons can use help in spots like perimeter shooting, wing athleticism, etc.

The real fireworks, though, will come in the composition of this roster, a talented but mismatched one that Van Gundy inherits. Assuming Greg Monroe emerges from restricted free agency wearing Pistons blue — and there’s no reason to think he won’t unless a team knocks the Pistons’ socks off with a sign-and-trade offer that’s rarely presented or executed — he’ll have to address the front-court triumvirate.

Tipping his hand in a meeting with the press corps wasn’t exactly top of mind, but he acknowledged the heavily used and underachieving trio of Monroe, Andre Drummond and Josh Smith shouldn’t spend an overabundance of time together come next season.

Van Gundy made a point to say when they are on the floor together, the shooting needs to be at a premium to maximize spacing. Considering the team finished last in the league in 3-point shooting last season, we shouldn’t expect for Van Gundy to stray too far from his stated conventional wisdom.

If that’s the case, then Van Gundy could have a tough sell on his hands with Smith — and to a lesser degree Brandon Jennings. For Van Gundy and Smith, it’ll be tougher than keeping Smith away from the apparently seducing 3-point line.

They've got options

To maximize Smith, perhaps he should be brought off the bench as an ultimate utility man. Contract aside, Smith can be the most maddening player on the roster, and likely the most frustrating Piston in a very long time.

Coming off the bench and giving him starter’s minutes, when he’s engaged and effective, balances out the floor — and the worry about whether he’s a small forward or power forward falls to the wayside.

A front-court rotation where two of the three are on the floor together can quickly be turned from a liability to a strength.

Smith likely would be the most talented player on the floor, certainly the most versatile as well as experienced.

For the starting group, the Pistons should acquire an actual small forward via the draft, trade or free agency, helping Monroe and Drummond with much-needed space. Drummond’s offensive game hasn’t developed in two years, and although it would be unfair to judge a 21-year old in such a small sample size, there’s no guarantee it will —but he needs the opportunity to see if he can be a back-to-the-basket player.

We all know Monroe, with his physical limitations and lack of explosive athleticism, needs it. Anyone who just saw the NBA Finals watched Boris Diaw, a highly skilled player who can barely jump three inches off the ground, get his shot off against bigger, taller and more athletic defenders.

One reason for that was San Antonio’s supreme floor spacing and balance, where multiple defenders couldn’t rotate over to Diaw as he maneuvered under and around the rim — but never above it.

Monroe’s basketball intelligence is among the highest for anyone in his age group, and Van Gundy can maximize his unique passing ability. But if Smith is out there in the starting group, it limits Monroe’s touches.

It's worked before

Certainly, Smith isn’t the cause of all that ails the Pistons, so this space shouldn’t be interpreted as scapegoating a talented player who struggled to fit in with a new team last year.

But his attempts at becoming a prime offensive option fell woefully short last season, as he shot 42 percent from the field and launched 3.4 triples a game, much to the chagrin of Pistons fans.

He need look no further than Lamar Odom as evidence that coming off the bench isn’t a demotion. Odom struggled his first few years with the Lakers, playing second option next to Kobe Bryant, but when they traded for Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum emerged as an interior force, Odom came off the bench and was a matchup nightmare.

Odom helped the Lakers win back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010, a valuable championship piece after being questioned and maligned. Odom won the Sixth Man of the Year award in 2011, cementing his place as one of the league’s most versatile forwards.

Smith’s intelligence and defense can be of great use, and the talk about him being merely dead weight is certainly overplayed.

If Van Gundy already has this idea in his head, and if he can convince a headstrong player the move will be beneficial, it’ll be arguably his first great — or even best — move as Pistons czar.



Josh Smith led the Pistons with a 16.4 scoring average last season. / Kathy Kmonicek / Associated Press