Even the most vocal Josh Smith detractors probably didn't think the mere act of cutting him would turn the Pistons' into a fire-breathing basketball monster, but that's pretty much what has happened.
Since waiving Smith, the Pistons are 5-0, and outscoring opponents by 18.2 points per game on average. They have played like a top of the line squad on both sides of the ball, with their offense exploding for 108.3 points per game. That's the part Fantasy owners care the most about, so that's what we'll focus on here.
Over those five games the Pistons have had four players emerge as legitimately useful Fantasy options, with a few others hanging out at the periphery. Let's take a look at those four, and see if they can keep it up moving forward. They'll get their first real test Tuesday against the Spurs:
21.6 points, 5.6 assists per game; shooting 55.8 percent, 48.6 from 3-point range
Jennings, the poster boy for low-efficiency scoring, has been absolutely on fire from the field post-Smith. He is shooting 55.8 percent from the field and 48.6 percent from 3-point range, averaging 21.6 points on just 15.4 field-goal attempts per game, despite taking just 1.2 free-throw attempts to go with them.
Jennings' play is the very definition of a mirage right now. Jennings shot just 36.8 percent from the field prior to the most recent five games, right in line with the 37.3 percent he shot a year ago. Getting rid of Smith certainly helps the Pistons spacing -- especially with stretch fours like Jonas Jerebko and Anthony Tolliver getting more playing time -- but he wasn't making this kind of negative impact.
Jennings has taken just four catch-and-shoot jumpers over the last five games per NBA.com's player tracking stats, compared to 51 off the dribble jumpers, but is shooting nearly 60 percent on those pull-up jumpers. That might be Jennings' favorite type of shot, but that kind of shooting simply cannot be sustained; he is shooting just 34.4 percent on off-the-dribble jump shots for the season, including this recent hot streak.
If Jennings was spotting up and taking shots in the flow of the offense, we might be able to point to his recent play as reason for optimism. He has actually been a good spot-up shooter this season, posting a 61.7 percent effective field-goal percentage, which accounts for 3-pointers being worth more. However, watching Jennings dribble into off-balance 3s in transition like this isn't exactly promising.
Getting anything out of Jennings at this point is a win, considering he averaged just 9.3 points per game in December. Still, he can't possibly keep anything like this up. If anyone in your league expresses any interest in acquiring Jennings, now is the time to move him.
15.0 points, 15.8 rebounds, 2.4 blocks, 1.8 steals per game; shooting 62.7 percent from the field
Now that shot chart is a thing of beauty, and this one might actually be sustainable. See all that green near the rim, where each of Drummond's made shots has come from? Drummond was shooting just 49.8 percent from there prior to Smith being waived, and Smith's presence has to be at least somewhat attributable to that.
Though Stan Van Gundy tried to limit the amount of time Smith spent at small forward, he still had to run out lineups that too often featured non-shooters at both forward positions. With Jennings' season-long cold streak and poor play from sophomore Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, defense could too often pack the paint and reach in on Drummond near the hoop, leaving him with little room to operate.
With Jodie Meeks, Jonas Jerebko, Caron Butler and Anthony Tolliver playing more often lately, the Pistons have been able to surround Drummond with more shooting, freeing up the lane for his ferocious dunks. Drummond is also drawing more free throws than before in this span, further evidence of the impact of more spacing; if the defense has to cover more ground, they'll be late rotating to the rim more often for Drummond's rolls there.
This is what we expected from Drummond before the season, so it isn't a big surprise. He probably can't keep averaging 15-plus points and boards per game, but he's also not going to be as bad as he was early in the season. If giving Drummond more room to operate is the only positive to come from waiving Smith, it will be worth the years of cap hits to come.
12.8 points, 10.2 rebounds per game; shooting 43.1 percent from the field
Monroe is basically the only member of the team not to see his production improve following Smith's dismissal. I assumed he would be the big winner of the move initially, imagine that he would see more time as an offensive hub. However, the exact opposite has happened, as Monroe's assist rate has fallen. In hindsight, this should have been obvious; though Monroe has proven to be a very good passer in the past, he isn't a natural fit for the offense Stan Van Gundy prefers to run.
Moving Smith was largely about kick-starting Van Gundy's rebuild of the roster in his preferred image. He never had a high-post player of Monroe's skill in Orlando, but that type of player never really fit what he wanted to do anyways. Van Gundy's offense in Orlando always operated best when he could surround Dwight Howard with shooters, especially at the power forward position. Monroe, for all his gifts, is no shooter.
He isn't an inside player right now either, though I suspect that won't last. The distribution of Monroe's shots lately is ideal, with 79.3 percent coming within the immediate hoop area. He's not Drummond as a finisher, but it doesn't take a big leap of faith to assume Monroe will improve in that regard. He was at 49.8 percent near the rim prior to Smith being waived, and should improve there.
Monroe remains a solid buy-low candidate, especially for Head-to-Head leagues, where his lack of shot-blocking and relatively low shooting percentages don't hurt you as much. However, his ceiling is limited if he isn't going to be dishing out assists like we hoped.
17.8 points, 3.4 3-pointers per game; shooting 56.9 percent from the field, 63.0 percent from 3-point range
The story with Meeks is very similar to the one with Jennings; he can't possibly hope to keep up this type of absurd shooting pace. Still, there are more signs of sustainability to point to here, mostly because Meeks rarely takes bad shots. He isn't going to keep making nearly a third of his 3-pointers, sure, but Meeks has a well-established reputation as a long-range gunner, something Jennings has never had.
Meeks should settle in as a 40-percent 3-point shooter even when regression takes hold, and his shot distribution is close to ideal in Van Gundy's offense; just 22.3 percent of his shots are coming within the 3-point line and outside of the immediate basket area. If you accept him as a mid-teen's scorer who provides high volumes of 3-pointers and very little else, Meeks should be a solid contributor.
There really isn't much else here. Caldwell-Pope continues to see plenty of playing time and shots, but he shouldn't doesn't do much with him. He is just an okay shooter from long range, never gets to the free-throw line, and doesn't contribute anywhere else at all. Outside of deeper leagues, he has little value.
D.J. Augustin is averaging 7.0 assists per game over the last five, a very solid number that could push him beyond deep-league relevance if he could sustain it. Of course, Jennings has also been the beneficiary of a lot of the Pistons' hot -- and unsustainable -- shooting, as the team is connecting on 54.7 percent of their shots of Augustin passes. If that regresses and his assist number drops close to 5.0 per game, it might be hard to justify him as anything more than a reserve option, which is what he's been all season.