Last week Ish Smith joined Jim Rome’s radio program for an extremely entertaining and informative 15 minute segment, talking with Jim about everything from Ish’s Wake Forest degree, to Ish getting traded during his rookie season, and of course, to Detroit’s fairly impressive start to this season. Check the interview out here.
As most of you reading this already know, Ish has played for a ton of NBA teams during his career, which began in 2010 as a 22-year-old, 6-foot undrafted free agent out of Wake Forest. To be exact, Ish has played for 10 different NBA teams. And for the last two plus seasons, Ish has seen (and Pistons and Ish fans have witnessed) his NBA career stabilize itself.
One particular part of Ish’s fascinating NBA journey that struck me during the Jim Rome interview was a story Ish mentioned about what his mother told him after he signed the three-year, $18 million dollar deal with the Pistons in 2016. Ish’s mother told him in the car, while they were house hunting in Detroit after signing the contract, that “now you got to validate it, be better than your contract.” Ish said that his mother’s comment “stuck in his head.” Ish told Jim that he knew she was right and that he hadn’t really earned anything yet. His time with the Pistons would be where he earned his keep. I think it goes without saying that it’s obvious Ish’s mother is a strong role model and she’s a huge reason why Ish is where he’s at today.
And, let’s be very clear. Ish has validated his contract up to this point. And then some. He’s one of the best backup point guards in the NBA and can shift a game’s pace and excitement in a flash. When the other team realizes Ish is doing whatever he wants by terrorizing them with his quickness and paint penetration, well, at that point it’s usually already too late for adjustments. Not many players can stay in front of Ish. And when Ish has his jump shot working, it’s pretty much lights out for the opponent, too. Give Ish space so he doesn’t go by you, and he’ll readily shoot the jumper. Stick to him tight, and he’ll find a way to get around you. Ish is never going to pick up his dribble.
Sometimes there’s just nothing a team can do until Ish exits the game.
There’s been so many times during the previous two seasons where it was such a chore to watch the Pistons play basketball — but always, always, one of the more exciting things to watch was Ish Smith compete. During Ish’s first season as a Piston back in 2016-2017, I wrote about Ish’s impressive play over a particular stretch, and also showed some particular clips illustrating such. Ish was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise disappointing and quite boring season. It’s exciting that Ish is still with this team as they try to become relevant again.
Ish’s quickness, his change of speed and direction, his hesitation dribbles — it’s all there for him to be able to get to where he wants so he can use his ability to make a wide array of shots over the tall trees inside. Ish is just such a creative, fun point guard who will help you win.
This season, the Pistons seem to be trending away from just being an average or mediocre team. There’s a good coach in place, a plan brewing, and the team is simply more solid in most areas that it has been in years past. Players seem to have defined roles on this team. As the Pistons (hopefully) keep on keeping on as one of the top four or five teams in the Eastern conference, people will take closer note on the importance of having a talent like Smith as a backup point guard. If the Pistons bench is to continue to be a solid unit, Ish will certainly be an integral part of it.
Looking at Ish’s numbers a bit
If we are going to look at numbers (as of December 2) — and we should — we should take into consideration that Ish’s shooting (48.6 percent from the field last season compared to 42.6 percent this season) and assist numbers are quite a bit down from last season, while his minutes are a shade up. Ish’s free throw visits are also way down this season. Last season he shot nearly 1.5 free throws per game, while this season he’s at .5 per game (having shot just 10 free throws in 20 games). One thing that has stood out that points to Ish’s big decrease in free throw attempts is his significant leap in three-point attempts up until now. He’s shooting 3.6 a game (at a 33 percent clip), while last season he shot just 1.4 a game (at a 34.7 percent clip).
If you remember, Ish shot the three-ball extremely well in October, hitting 46.2 percent on nearly 4 tries a game. Ish may have fallen in love with the shot just a bit much, since in November he again shot nearly 4 threes a game, but hit just 24.4 percent of them.
It’s still fairly early in the season, so no supposed conclusions should be made. However, Casey’s focus on the three ball has given Ish more of a green light to shoot the three, especially if the defense is more or less conceding it to him. Also, Ish (and he’s not alone) is still feeling out how to play with an all-around talent and high usage player like Blake Griffin. There’s going to be a learning curve. In all, Ish is still making good plays for this team more times than not, and the team is winning.
Over the weekend the Pistons, on the second game of a back-to-back no less, beat the Golden State Warriors by nine. Stanley Johnson’s big game drew most of the post-game talk, and deservedly so, but Ish was a key part in the bench’s success, especially in the fourth as he scored three buckets to help keep the Warriors at bay.
For fun’s sake, this post-game tweet definitely made me chuckle:
Ish’s speed certainly isn’t a surprise to anyone in the league anymore. Maybe Ish could frame this tweet from Kevin Durant:
Again, check out Ish’s interview with Jim Rome from last week!