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NBA free agency: Ish Smith's game could resemble Brandon Jennings

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Signing Ish Smith may not be the most exciting way to open free agency, but he just might wind up looking like an exciting old friend.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

When my alarm went off yesterday morning at 6:15 Mountain Time, I had a notification on my phone that the Pistons made their first move of free agency.

Wow.

They agreed to a contract with Brandon Jennings for 3 years, $18 million. Really? What a bargain!

Now, that's not what my phone actually said. Of course it was actually Ish Smith, the dude who has played for nine different teams. The dude who was the "savior" for the Philadelphia 76ers last season. The dude who can't shoot.

For us Pistons fans, sometimes we have a tendency to lean too hard on comparisons with former Pistons players. They're the guys who we see the most, who we know the best. It's a bit lazy of us to do. Sorry. I'm going to do it anyways.

Points per 36 Assist % Turnover % True shooting % 3PT % 2PT % 16-3PT shooting %
Jennings 16.6 34.8% 14% 49.7% 34.1% 40.7% 36.7%
Ish 15.6 38.3% 14.4% 46.5% 32.9% 42.8% 34.4%


Jennings numbers are during his time with the Pistons. Ish's are from last year (yes, I'm intentionally avoiding referring to him as Smith, especially in a piece where Jennings figures prominently).

There's not a ton of difference. They're also about the same size, about the same age. Neither one is the most efficient scorer you're ever going to meet, both score at about the same clip. They can both dish it. And though Ish isn't considered a good shooter, his shooting numbers are pretty comparable to Jennings.

But that was just last year, you say. Ish's career shooting numbers, you say. They're awful. Yes, they are. And they should be taken into consideration.

But they should also be taken with context. In his first four seasons, he never had more than 30 attempts from three point range. It's tough to glean much information about how good of a three point shooter a player is from a sample of fewer than 30 attempts.

Sure, add them all up and you get a bigger sample. And it's still meaningful. But many of those games were ones where Ish stepped on the court for four or five minutes at a time. There were periods where he would go two months without the chance to shoot a three point attempt. Last season was the first time in his career Ish was able to get consistent minutes and probably the best view of the type of player he'll be for the Pistons.

Now Ish isn't going to play with the same SWAG as Brandon Jennings. Jennings was a mighty fun player to watch when things were rolling his way. But Ish is still a fast-paced, aggressive point guard.

Watching his video, it's easy to see what Stan Van Gundy and Jeff Bower liked in Ish. Where Jennings ran hot and cold primarily thanks to the degree of difficulty of the shots he liked to take, Ish seems to look for the simple play.

Neither is an efficient scorer, but their talent rises to the surface in how they go about their inefficiency. Jennings' SWAG mode was a celebration of his talent - that 20-foot fall-away jumper off the bounce, he may only hit it 40 percent of the time, but damn, it's pretty when he does. And often, it'll be three or four of them in a row, so HEAT CHECK.

With Ish, he scraps and scrapes his way to that 40 percent shot. He'll pass up the open look to dribble in for the closer look. He's pivoting in the paint for a little separation over the big man.

It doesn't look as pretty as with Jennings. It's not as fun as SWAG. There are no indications that his celebratory dance moves are anywhere near as good as Jennings'. But one nice thing is that Ish's disciplined approach creates an opportunity for upside.

Ish's true shooting percentage was a lousy 43 percent 2013-14 and 2014-15. It was a still lousy but better 46 percent last year. But it seems like he's doing a better job of developing at least a bit of savvy and learning how to get his looks a little bit easier. Doing that with Philadelphia doesn't seem like it must have been very easy. With Detroit, there's reason to hope that he could get that true shooting percentage to at least a non-puke-worthy 50 percent.

Also his catch-and-shoot numbers offer a sign for hope. Last year he shot 37 percent from three in catch-and-shoot opportunities. Not bad.

But of course, the Pistons didn't bring Ish in to be a scorer. It's his ability as a distributor, that 38 percent assist percentage, that earned him his $18 million contract. And like Jennings, he can fling the ball around.

Ish was more of a ball-dominant player at Philadelphia with a 25 percent usage rate, compared to 21 percent in New Orleans. He seemed more focused on helping his Pelicans teammates create, which makes sense. Philadelphia was a 10-win garbage heap by design.

But running the offense, Ish is constantly attacking, pushing the pace, and he does a nice job setting up his teammates. Again, not with the same style or flair as Jennings, but just as effectively.

If the front office orchestrated bringing back Brandon Jennings, even for $10 million per year, it would have been a fun move. Especially considering Jennings helped yield Tobias Harris, who looks like one of the core pieces of the franchise.

Ish at $6 million per year, it's not as fun as Jennings. He's probably never going to be as fun as Jennings. But he could very well wind up being just as good.