Detroit Pistons: Josh Smith will be X-factor next season

With the NBA schedule coming out today, it’s never too early to start breaking down your favorite team’s outlook for the coming season. The Detroit Pistons need to establish an identity thanks to a variety of changes this offseason.

The Pistons hired Stan Van Gundy as head coach and president in May, and he promptly took on the offseason by signing five free agents as well as drafting guard Spencer Dinwiddie.

He also dumped the contracts of Chauncey Billups, Peyton Siva and Josh Harrellson to free up money and roster space, while Rodney Stuckey and Charlie Villanueva departed to free agency.

Even if they retain restricted free agent Greg Monroe, that’s a lot of turnover for one offseason. These new faces are going to have to learn how to play together, and quickly, if the Pistons want to be successful in a rising Eastern Conference.

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That being said, I think Josh Smith is going to be the X-factor for this team. Despite his horrendous shooting last season, good play from Smith will be a huge factor if the team hopes to be successful this season.

Last year was one to forget for Smith. Shooting has never been his strong suit, but for some reason he, and his career average of 27.9 percent from three-point range, decided to jack up a career high 265 triples last season. I don’t think I need to tell you that not many of those went in.

He also set a career low in field goal percentage and posted his second worst season from the free throw line. Combine that with his worst rebound total since 2006, and Smith was a downright mess in his first season with Detroit.

So why do I think he will be the Pistons’ X-factor next season? Enter Van Gundy, defensive specialist who has the credentials to back it up. He has never had a losing record in seven full season as a head coach.

In five season as head coach of the Orlando Magic from 2007-2012, the Magic ranked 11th, 1st, 1st, 3rd, and 13th in defensive efficiency according to ESPN’s Hollinger team statistics. While they were anchored by three-time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard, it is worth noting that no other Magic player made an NBA All-Defensive Team during that time frame.

Van Gundy has the coaching ability to turn Smith into a very productive player. The coach is going to make sure he doesn’t take as many perimeter shots, put him in the right positions to succeed on offense and utilize his versatility on the defensive end.

As polarizing as Smith is, there is no denying that he is a rare talent. Smith’s career average of 2.06 blocks-per-game is the 20th best in league history, combine that with his career average of 1.3 steals each game, and he is one special defender. Van Gundy will be bringing his defensive mentality to Detroit, and Smith is going to be a huge benefactor.

Some comments the coach made earlier indicate that Smith will only be used where he is most effective: at power forward. Van Gundy realizes that Smith cannot play another season at small forward after last year’s disaster.

If Smith only plays at the four, I think that he is going to have a much better season. Pistons’ fans may soon forget about Smith’s dreadful 2013-2014 season thanks to the defensive genius of Van Gundy.