‘A Race to the Rim’

‘I feel great about my choice,’ Josh Smith says of coming to the Pistons

Josh Smith
Josh Smith is anxious to start training camp and the 2013-14 season with the Pistons.
Ron Hoskins (NBAE/Getty)
Joe Dumars had Josh Smith at hello when they met at the stroke of midnight as the door to free agency swung open on July 1. But if Smith felt good about his decision to sign with the Pistons then, he feels better about it now.

“I feel great about my choice,” Smith said after a brisk workout Wednesday at the team’s practice facility. “Our team, our roster, is very impressive to me. We have a lot of hard workers who’ve been in here, getting it in, getting to know each other. I’m real excited. We have rookies that are sponges. They just want to get better. We have young fellas that play hard and everybody wants to get better and everybody wants to do it together. Whenever you are able to be a part of something like that, it’s special.”

Smith’s third child, a son, was born a few days after he signed with the Pistons. The family is settled in Detroit now, the first time in Smith’s life he’s lived away from Atlanta other than his days at the Virginia prep school Oak Hill Academy, and he feels reinvigorated after nine seasons with the Hawks.

“I’m just excited, man. I’m happy,” he said. “I cherish moments. Whenever you go through situations where it might be a little rough sometimes and you come to a new beginning and it’s clear – everything is clear, you know what they want out of you, you know what they expect out of you – you just want to give your all. When you have people that have faith in you and confidence in you, you don’t want them to be proven wrong. That’s how I feel. I come in every day to work hard and I can’t wait until the season starts so I can show these guys how appreciative I am of them for showing interest in me in free agency.”

Another reason Smith feels even more positive about his move today is the trade the Pistons swung a few weeks after he signed that added point guard Brandon Jennings from Milwaukee. The two share Oak Hill roots, but it goes beyond that for Smith.

“I was excited – it was crazy,” Smith said of his reaction when he heard about the trade. “I know what he’s capable of doing and I know the reason he played the way he played in Milwaukee – because he had to. He had to get the ball, he had to score points. There wasn’t any low-post presence in Milwaukee, so he and Monta (Ellis) had to take the bulk of the shots – some good, some bad, but he had to do it. As a player, you understand that.

“I’ve seen Brandon a long time. I’ve seen the progression since he was in high school and when he played overseas. He was a pass-first point guard. That’s what people don’t really know and understand about Brandon. He’s an excellent passer and he’s going to display that this season.”

In particular, Smith looks forward to being a participant in pick-and-roll plays with Jennings pulling the trigger – if he can beat the pack to the rim.

“Having a point guard that can break his man down at any given moment, and a magician at pick-and-roll play, I think it’s going to be helpful for us,” he said. “I think it’s going to get me, (Andre) Drummond and (Greg) Monroe some easy baskets. Me, Drummond and Monroe, it’s going to be a race to the rim to see who can get there fastest for lobs. It’s going to be fun. I think we’re going to bring a lot of excitement to The Palace and I’m ready for it. I think everybody’s ready.”

Smith is aware that skeptics wonder if the Pistons have enough perimeter shooting to survive in an era where the 3-point shot has become critical. Aware, not concerned.

“We’ll be OK,” he said. “We’ll be OK. We’re going to be able to score the ball. I’ve played the three before. I’m a confident mid-range jump shooter. We have guys who can knock down shots. We have the total package – we have outside scoring, but we have a low-post presence where we can throw the ball down low and get buckets there, too.”

Not to be overlooked in putting together the puzzle of the Pistons’ offense is the passing ability they’ll have in the frontcourt, where Smith averaged 4.2 assists a year ago and Monroe 3.5. They’re among the best-passing big men in the game. Drummond didn’t get many post touches a season ago, but he’s a surprisingly good ballhandler for his size and age who has shown flashes of passing skills, too.

“It’s definitely going to help,” Smith said. “Whenever you have guys who are bigger who can pass the ball from the high post, it’s definitely beneficial, especially when guys get double-teamed down on the block and know how to kick it out to shooters who are open. That can be contagious, as well. Other bigs can learn. I’m a pretty good passer. I’ve learned over the years how to perfect it. Monroe, from the Georgetown days, it’s kind of natural for him to do it and it flowed into the NBA. Drummond will get there. As he keeps getting better at low-post offense, people are going to have to respect him and start coming down to double him.”

And whatever rough patches the Pistons might experience offensively as they fit the pieces together early, Smith sees the defensive potential to win games at that end.

“If we communicate,” he said. “We’re long. We’re athletic, as well. We’re not just a long team that’s slow. We can move around a little bit. Being able to protect the paint and make teams shoot jump shots, that’s the hope to success and being able to win and make it hard for teams to come into that lane and just lay the ball up.”

Smith has talked a few times with new Pistons coach Maurice Cheeks, but comes to the equation with a unique insight into Cheeks given to him by his former Atlanta teammate Louis Williams, who was one of the young players in Philadelphia influenced by Cheeks, along with Andre Iguodala and Thaddeus Young, among others.

“Mo Cheeks is a player that’s been successful in this league,” Smith said. “He knows the ups and downs of what a player goes through. I’ve known Louis Williams all my life. He said I was going to love him. He loved him in Philly and I’m going to love him here.”

Smith is already sold on the most interesting newcomer to Cheeks’ coaching staff, Rasheed Wallace. Smith was picked by Atlanta 17th overall in the 2004 draft with a pick sent to them by the Pistons in the trade that brought Wallace to Detroit and completed the Goin’ to Work Pistons just in time for their title run that season. They’ve waged their share of battles over the years since then. On Wednesday, Wallace played defense against Smith – in the post, on the wing and everywhere in between – as they worked on a variety of moves.

“Being able to have a coach that has that much basketball experience, that high of a basketball IQ, it’s always good to be able to get coached by players that have played the same profession as you at the same level,” he said. “Especially somebody that made the impact in this league he did. To be able to learn different things from him – veteran tricks of the trade – I know it’s going to be very beneficial for my career.”

And another reason to feel better about a decision he was already sure was the right move.