In March’s Analytics Issue of ESPN The Magazine, one of the headline-grabbing graphics was the following proclamation: “Dwyane Wade is the worst three-point shooter in NBA history.” It’s a bit of a stretch perhaps, taking advantage of today’s stretchy NBA where the three-ball is more important than ever. But Wade actually does have a modern counterpart whose outside shooting stats are even worse. And it won’t be a surprising name to many.
No one knows if Josh Smith is destined to be in Detroit much longer. Quite clearly, he’s not a good fit with the Pistons’ young frontcourt duo of 24-year-old restricted free agent Greg Monroe and soon-to-be 21-year-old stud Andre Drummond. The team had a -8.0 net rating with all three on the court, in about one-third of last season’s overall minutes. It was pretty horrendous for a team with mild preseason playoff aspirations.
So what’s the deal with the 28-year-old Josh Smith? He was pried away from Atlanta last summer with a four-year $54 million contract. The deal wasn’t all that horrible in a vacuum, but the fit was always a question. Mostly because Detroit was set to play him alongside Monroe and Drummond, where Smith would need to shoot somewhat to space the floor. And he can’t. He really can’t.
Below are Smith’s final four seasons in Atlanta, as visualized by Austin Clemens’ shot charts:
Even if you can’t view the image that clearly, it’s probably for the best. You can still see a lot of blue. What could possibly have given off the impression that Smith could shoot? During these four seasons, Smith shot 34.0% from mid-range, 32.1% on corner three-pointers and 29.2% on above-the-break three-pointers. The sample size is horrifically large. The league averages are at least 5-7% higher from all three of those shooting zones.
There was a brief long-distance shooting reprieve in 2009-10 when Smith miraculously decided to take only seven threes all season. But he still was atrocious from mid-range — only 28.1% that year. He’s an incredible athlete that should thrive in the restricted area (and he did, to the tune of 67.6% these four years) but hangs around the perimeter far too much.
And that was the case last year, predictably so, when he was forced into way too much time at the 3:
Josh Smith is not a bad player. As a perfect example: nearly one-quarter of his possessions came on spot-up opportunities last season! That’s not just a bad shooter or lackluster decision-making, that’s bad coaching. He’s a proven terrible shooter. He’s such a bad shooter, there’s a parody mashup with his airballs and Jordan’s “Become Legendary” commercial. But this doesn’t mean he’s value-less in today’s NBA.
As a 6-foot-9 athlete, shooting doesn’t have to be his role. Yes, big man shooting is very valuable in today’s game, but forwards like Smith also have increased defensive responsibilities. And he usually proved quite skilled in those areas in Atlanta, with a career 2.0% steal rate, 4.8% block rate and 103 defensive rating. Last season with Detroit? The defense collapsed with Smith-Monroe-Drummond sharing the court.
One can hope that his next coach – be it Stan Van Gundy or someone else – puts him in a position to succeed offensively. If Smith isn’t spotting up as much, his coach could perhaps harness his lapsed elite skill at drawing foul shots (.405 FTr his first six seasons; .276 last four seasons).
It’s worth closing on this: Josh Smith’s three-point shooting percentage is the worst for anyone with 1,000 three attempts this millennium, even worse than Dwyane Wade. His mid-range shooting isn’t much better. He needs to be saved from himself. Josh Smith is the worst shooter in the NBA.
The shot charts in this post are the work of our own Austin Clemens. Check out shot charts for any NBA player going back to the 1996-1997 season here.