Josh Smith Has Been So, So, So, So Bad This Year

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Stan Van Gundy has thrown Josh Smith into a volcano. Surely, this is the funniest thing that will happen in the NBA this year. But while we wait to see where Josh ends up next—the Rockets are apparently in the lead, but we all want him on the Mavs—let us remember that however well we think he might fit into another system with another roster, Josh Smith has been an absolute disaster on the court this year.

According to Synergy Sports, Smith is in the bottom 8 percent in overall points per possession, bottom 6 percent in transition PPP, bottom 11 percent in halfcourt, and bottom 21 percent after timeouts. He’s bottom 10 percent on pick-and-rolls, bottom 12 percent on spot-ups (on which he takes a full quarter of his shots), and spikes to a frigid 23rd percentile mark for post-ups. This year at least, like the previous few, Josh cannot shoot.


The one area on offense where Smith excels on the stat sheet is passing out of the post. Smith’s own shots from the post have been awful—that 23rd percentile figure—but when he passes out to a spot-up shooter, the points per possession nearly double, going from .711 to 1.19, good for the 68th percentile. This makes sense, too, given how little space there is to work with for the Pistons inside with Smith sharing a frontcourt with Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond. His rebound rate, steal percentage, and block percentage are all holding steady as well, according to Basketball Reference, meaning that aside from a very broken shot, his athletic indicators are mostly intact.

In fact, Smith has actually been quite good on defense this year. He’s 19th overall in ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus-Minus stat, which is enough to just barely offset his negative rating on offense. And by Synergy, he’s in the 93rd percentile in post-up defense and the 91st in isolation defense. He’s a wreck defending the pick and roll (25th percentile), but at least does a decent job running out to hassle spot-up shooters. This is the reason contending teams are already chasing down Smith, and why he’d be such a good fit for a team that needs frontcourt defending, like the Mavs or Cavaliers.

But even so, being roundly incapable of scoring, no matter the situation, is a particular problem for Smith because he was using 25.3 percent of his team’s possessions, third-highest rate of his career. And you can’t blame all of his scoring problems on spacing issues. Thanks to the NBA’s SportVU player tracking, we can see the physical trail of something we’ve always known: Josh Smith really loves shooting when he’s open, and he’s really bad at it.


SportVU tracks how close the nearest defender is to a player when he takes a shot—it sorts these by 0-2, 2-4, 4-6, and 6+ feet. For most players, when a defender is far away and he has a chance at an open shot, their percentage will spike up (though for the “6+” range, there is a slight decrease, since that implies a shot farther away from the basket). You can also isolate shots only from 10 feet and out, so you’re for the most part only looking at jumpers. But Josh actually gets worse when defenders are 6+ feet away, presumably because they’ve baited him into finding space outside his range.

Here’s a heat map from Nylon Calculus. You don’t really need much context to take in what’s going on here:


That’s grim, man. Josh’s charts are so bad that even the Twitter account got involved:


This is how much it’s sucked to be Josh Smith this year. But as much as he’s stunk, there’s plenty enough reason to think that he’s going to be very good—and still shoot very poorly—for whichever contender ends up with him.