In a world where Kevin Durant is going to the Warriors to play with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, and players like David West and Zaza Pachulia are joining them on veteran minimum deals, hearing the Detroit Pistons agreeing to a three-year, $18 million deal with Ish Smith is underwhelming to say the least. Yes, the Pistons' starting five was one of the strongest starting fives of all last year, and yes it is unlikely that the Pistons were going to get a marquee name to join the Pistons.
But Ish Smith?
You mean that guy Jerry Colangelo traded two second-round picks for the day before Christmas last year?
You mean the guy that has played for nine different teams in six seasons, only playing a whole season with the same team once?
And wait...you mean to tell me he'll make $6 million dollars a year, the same amount he's made over his entire career so far?
Yes, all of that is true. What is also true is that Smith's shooting percentages are not pretty. His career shooting numbers are 40 percent from the field, 29.8 percent from three and 64.5 percent from the free throw line. He's never had a year shooting over 43 percent. His best three-point shooting year was when he went 3-for-9 one year for 33.3-percent. And his best free throw shooting season in the NBA is 70 percent. If you include college, which would be 10 combined seasons, he's only had three where his free throw percentage was 60 percent or higher.
So why would Stan Van Gundy, a coach who is in love with efficient shooting (especially from three), sign Ish Smith? Even with the cap jumping $24 million dollars, why give him $6 million per year.
Because there's more to the game than just shooting.
As DBB has already reported, Marcus Morris loves him some Ish Smith. But that is just one player's opinion. Thankfully, we have the internet and it allows us to see that Smith has affected teams more than just by shooting the ball.
Let us look at what he did just last year for the Philadelphia 76ers. Prior to Smith joining the 76ers, they were 1-30. And that lone win was against the Los Angeles Lakers, who were 2-14 at the time the game started. They were losing games by an average of 13.6 points per game and more than half the time it was by 10 points or more. They were so bad, The Simpsons made fun of them.
But after Smith got there, things really changed. They won their first game with Smith. Within the first five weeks, the 76ers won six games: at Phoenix, at Sacramento, against Minnesota, against Portland, at Orlando and against Phoenix. Were any of those teams world beaters? No. The Sixers also never made it to overtime in their first 31 games, but did so four times after Smith joined the team (against the Bulls, Knicks, Clippers and Bucks).
From the time Smith joined the team through the end of the season, the team won nine more games, finishing 10-72. That means they went from a 3.2 winning percentage without Smith to a 17.6 winning percentage with Smith. And even though they still lost a lot of games, they were only losing by an average of 10.2 points per contest and more often than not were within 10 points when the game ended.
Is Smith to be credited for all of this? No. Just as the release of Josh Smith was not the only thing that allowed the Pistons to go 12-3 until Brandon Jennings went down with his injury. But it is no coincidence that upon his arrival, the team started playing better.
But how is that possible if he shoots as bad as he did? Even with the 76ers, starting 50 games (more than he ever had in his career), playing nearly a third of his career minutes in those 50 games, and shooting more than a third of his career shots in those 50 games -- in which he still had a bad shooting line of 41 percent from the field, 34 percent from three and 67 percent from the stripe.
He was able to help his team play better because he got them involved and played at a faster pace.
Prior to Smith joining the team, the 76ers averaged 81 shots per game (26 from three) and 22 free throws on a shooting line of 41.8 / 32 / 69 and 19 assists per game. They only reached 20 assists or more in 13 of their first 31 games. After Smith, the 76ers averaged 86 shots per game (28 from three) and 23 free throws on a shooting line of 43.9 / 35 / 69.7 and 23 assists per game. A stark contrast from before Smith, the 76ers would have 20 or more assists in 45 of their final 51 games.
There was no coaching change. The only other notable move the 76ers made after trading for Smith was picking up a shell of Elton Brand who only saw the court in two of their final nine wins. The tide changed when Smith joined the team.
Smith replaced Isaiah Canaan as the starting point guard. Canaan was a better shooter from three and from the line than Smith was. So why did the team's percentages go up across the board after inserting Smith? Very likely because Smith was a better distributor than Canaan. Assists are only tallied when a shot is made, but there's nothing to gauge the timing or placement of the pass. Canaan averaged 2.3 assists per game in games he started as the point guard. Smith averaged 7.0 assists per game as the 76ers starter. That is difficult to do on a team that shot so poorly.
Smith is a player who is very quick and likes to drive to the basket. And while his shooting percentages near the rim leave something to be desired, his drives are still effective. Last year, Smith averaged 1.4 assists on his drives to the basket, tied for tops in the NBA (with Rajon Rondo).
Now, some may be concerned that by driving to the basket, he'll get fouled and have to shoot free throws, something he's not good at. He only averaged 1.0 free throws per game on drives to the basket, only hitting them at 64 percent. Even with that, he averaged 5.1 points on drives per game, 17th among guards (.1 behind Steph Curry and 8.7 was the most).
And while he's driving in among the trees, he's very careful with the ball. He had a 5.1 TO%, tied for 30th of all guards playing 20 minutes or more (better than Curry, Westbrook, Jackson). He had a PASS% of 45.6, 11th of all guards playing 20 minutes or more (better than Curry, Westbrook, Jackson). He did average 5.0 shot attempts on drives per game, and was only 45 percent, but that was less than half of his drives. So while we can say that he may be an inefficient scorer on his drives, we have to acknowledge that his drives are still pretty dang good.
Unfortunately, stats.nba.com only shows Smith's pick-and-roll stats for when he was with the New Orleans Pelicans last season, not when he was with the 76ers. If you watch some of his highlights with the 76ers, you can see that he's decent at running the pick and roll and throwing lobs to the big man down low, ala Will Bynum or Brandon Jennings. This is good to know, should anything happen to Reggie Jackson.
Now, all of his numbers with the 76ers could be a fluke. The team could have just started shooting better and it had nothing to do with Smith. But the stats point to Smith making a large difference, even if it was on a crap of a team.
Now on the Pistons, he'll be playing playoff basketball and the hope is that he'll bring the same improvement to the Pistons' second unit that he brought to the Sixers' first.