Way Too In Depth Ish Smith Season Preview

Our Pistons Preview continues, now with Pistons backup point-guard Ish Smith.

Follow along with all the stats on Basketball-Reference.

About Last Year:

Another year of the same Ish Smith more or less. As a backup he is rock-solid, but when pressed into starting duty his flaws were so magnified that nothing good came of it. He did set a career-best (by a wide margin) in scoring efficiency with a true shooting percentage of 52.5% which was cool. His defense was utterly terrible which was not cool. Ish is a player who is, at times, exceedingly fun, and at times, exceedingly maddening. His total lack of shooting totally choked out the offense, he would run a pick and roll with the pick being set in the paint and opponents would still duck under the screen, and his vision is poor. He does avoid turnovers, however, runs in transition, and occasionally has bouts of hot shooting where he is awesome.


The key for Ish is going to be staying with the bench unit, which is actually a key for Reggie Jackson to stay healthy. If Ish is with the bench his game can bloom. On offense, he is a transition terror, who can play at full-tilt every moment he is on the floor instead of having to save himself for 30 minutes or risk running himself out of energy.

Perhaps just as notable as him being able to conserve energy, backups are simply not as good as starters. Ish won't look so terrible defensively when he doesn't have to go against the murders row of point guards in the NBA, and his offense won't look so miserable when he is scooting around backup point-guards and cooking bench bigs off the dribble.

A big key for him will be trying to replicate his scoring efficiency from last year. Previously in his career, he was so inefficient that every shot he took was essentially a wasted possession, last year him shooting still wasn't a great option, but it wasn't a terrible one either. It makes a big difference over the course of a season.

The last thing to watch will be a potential addition of a three-point shot to his regular arsenal. He started to launch some at the end of last season and has come out firing in the preseason. (even if it looked terrible in their opening preseason game) If he could can even 33% from deep it would help immensely. The degree to which opponents ignored him last season was so painful to watch.

Even if he doesn't successfully become a deep threat or he drops back to his normal efficiency as a scorer, Ish should still be effective if he stays with the bench. His brand of supercharged insanity mixed with low-turnovers is a great combination. He will lead the bench-mob with effectiveness and the theoretical bench-mob around him should provide enough shooting to cover for him. As it stands now, the likely bench unit will feature: Smith/Kennard/GR3/Ellenson/Leuer, the rest of those guys can shoot at least a bit.

One big key for him will be avoiding holding the ball too much. He has a bad tendency to go outside the offense and wing it, only to find no openings, which usually results in him hoisting a jump-shot. Too many possessions go where no one else even holds the ball. Especially if he shares the floor with Luke Kennard as often as he likely will, he must be more willing to let others run the show and trust the offense so he doesn't puke up quite so many miserable shots at the end of the shot clock.


Ish will never be a particularly high-level defender no matter what, he's simply too tiny. He can't switch onto bigger guys, bigger point-guards are even able to just shoot over him, but he has to be better than he was this past season. He plays a particularly frenetic brand of defense in line with his brand of offense, he tries to jump passing lanes, steal the ball, and generally never stops moving. The activity is cool, the problem is he gets so comically out of position so consistently that he was a huge issue on defense.

If he can leverage his speed more intelligently, he can come close to a net-neutral on defense with his constant harassing of offensive players. No one likes to go against a guy who is so fast and has boundless energy, playing defense like that combined with the fact that he is running in transition every chance he gets is surely a miserable matchup. The good news is that Ish has been a better defender in the past, in his first year with the Pistons he was much better than last year, and him being back on the bench should make him look not quite so bad. Regardless, he must improve from last year, because it got almost comically bad.


Ish seems to be really well-liked by his teammates, he is most vocal on the court, and when he avoids those spells of just not seeing passes he is an unselfish player who is probably fun to play with. I'm sure that the occasional parade of bricked jumpers gets on his teammates' nerves, how could it not, but I am sure everyone knows that Ish plays hard every night and is a hard worker every day. Dude is an absolute grinder who had to scratch and claw his way to this point. So while I haven't heard much of him being a real leader or anything, he gets good marks in the intangible column for sure.

Biggest Question for the coming season:

If the Pistons can manage to keep him on the bench. It seems dumb but I think that Smith is probably the guy who I have more confidence in what he will produce/provide for the Pistons this season. He will be, at best, a mediocre scorer and defender but avoid turnovers and push the pace. If he's off the bench he is an excellent backup, if he has to start he is a terrible starter. I want a full season of Ish Smith with the bench so that our memories of Ish are what they should've been all along, it isn't his fault he can't start, that was never supposed to be how it was. I want him to be remembered as a fun and effective backup, not a crappy starter.

Best Case Scenario:

Smith has a true shooting percentage of 53% and shoots 34% from deep, also having an assist to turnover ratio better than 3 to 1. This all comes as a result of him getting to stay in his natural habitat as a bench player and he leads a killer bench-mob for the Pistons all season. He doesn't score enough to garner real sixth man of the year attention, but smart basketball people know he should. He also enjoys his time so much that he decides to stay with the Pistons past this year at a discount.

Worst-Case Scenario:

"We are going to build a wall and Ish Smith's jumper is going to pay for it."

So in conclusion...

Wink knowingly at your friends if:

  • Some poor backup center gets switched onto Ish.

  • He is hitting threes at any sort of respectable rate.

  • Staying in position on defense isn't a totally foreign concept.

Run for the hills if:

  • He has to start.

  • He is shooting very much.

  • Opponents are consistently keeping him out of transition.

Opportunities for me to look stupid:

  • TS% over 50%.

  • He shoots more threes but barely cracks 30%.

  • His defense isn't nearly as miserable.

What do you think? Can he shoot threes? Will he bounce back on defense?