Don’t look now but the Detroit Pistons have won five straight games since they waived forward Josh Smith last December 22. But is the Josh Smith’s ouster the reason why the Pistons are winning now?

What’s Changed Without Smith

Smith had  the highest usage percentage (24.9%) for the Pistons and that meant that the offense ran through him most of the time but since he left, the Pistons’ offense has looked more fluid. They’ve had fewer turnovers(from 13.6 to 12.6 per game) and a better assist to turnover ratio (from 1.52 to 1.79). The Pistons are also taking two less jumpers per game from the 16-24 feet distance, so there is also improvement in their shot selection. The Pistons are scoring 11 more points per 100 possessions and their true shooting percentage has increased from 50% to 57%. But here’s one interesting stat, because Josh Smith’s main flaw was taking too many threes. The Pistons’ three point attempts per game has even increased from 24.4 to 30.8 in the last five games. But the difference now is that they’re making their threes ( from 8.5 3PM to 13.2 3PM per contest)  at a high.429 percentage. Because of this, the Pistons have suddenly averaged 108.4 points in their last 5 games, a far improvement from their season average of 96.5 PPG (22nd in the NBA). But where has that scoring come from with Smith gone?

Return of Meeks

The main reason for the offensive surge of the Motor City Pistons is the return of Jodie Meeks. The 6-4 guard is the floor spacer that the Pistons have been desperately looking for since the season began. Meeks was out from the start of the season due to a stress fracture in his back. But since returning on December 12, the Pistons have been 7-4. The former Kentucky Wildcat has been averaging 17.8 points in the last five games while shooting 3.5-5.4 from three point distance per game during the same period. In the 11 games he’s played, Meeks is averaging 13.9 points per game and is making 1.9 out of 4.0 (.477) three point baskets per outing. Meeks’ hot shooting has not only been contagious to his teammates but it has also opened up the floor for Andre Drummond to operate inside the paint.

Drumming Up the Floor

Drummond has averaged 16.0 points and 15.8 rebounds per game in the last five games and has been shooting at a higher .627 mark. Although he’s remained a very poor free throw shooter, all of Drummond’s other numbers are up in the last five games. He’s had at least 15 rebounds in three of his last four games and had back to back 20 rebound games in between them. As of this writing, Drummond is #2 in the NBA in rebounds and #8 in blocked shots and since Smith has departed, Drummond has played some of the best games of his career and is starting to become the future of USA Basketball that Coach K surprisingly added to the US Men’s Basketball team to the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup.

Playing Well With Some Luck

Four of the Pistons’ last five opponents had losing records: the Pacers, Magic, Knicks and Kings. Sure, they also beat the Cavaliers, but Kyrie Irving was out for that game and the Cavs are struggling right now. So the luck of the schedule did give the Pistons some boost, but it didn’t necessarily give them the ability to beat their opponents by an average margin of 18 points. The last time the franchise has won four straight games by an average margin of 10 points or more was in December 21-27, 2007. The current five game winning streak is the longest since 2009 so this mini run speaks volumes of this young team’s development.

Not About Josh

No, it’s not about Josh Smith. It’s about how this young team is slowly coming to its own as it becomes healthy and more focused (without the Smith distraction). Smith had the skills, but he didn’t fit with the team. Drummond and Brandon Jennings say that the team feels better now without a ball-stopper like Smith. The air around practices have been fresher so to speak and the team’s mood has been light as of late. But that doesn’t mean everything will be easier from now on because the schedule only gets tougher. After the win over the Kings , the team has back to back road games against the Spurs and Mavericks and then host the Hawks on Jan 9. The Nets and Raptors follow on January 10 and 12. Tough times lie ahead but it isn’t so much about winning now for the Pistons but it’s about finally playing better basketball as a team.