Ish Smith Found a Real Home in Detroit

This is the 6th season review. All the starters were done previously.

The Basics:

An injury sidelined him for an extensive period leading to him only appearing in 56 games. In those 56 games he never started and played 22.3 minutes per game. He averaged 8.9 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game while shooting 41% from the field and 32% from deep for a true shooting percentage of 48.5%. He also sported the best on/off splits of any rotation player although that’s a little misleading since the other rotation players had to play with Jose Calderon.

Offense:

There was some chatter about Ish starting to shoot more threes and early in the season it looked like a real thing that might work as he started the season hot but he soon fizzled out and started taking threes with far less frequency. After the opening month, other than the occasional wide open 3, Smith was largely the same player he’s been the past two seasons.

That is to say, he remains a rock solid backup point-guard. HE avoids turnovers consistently, pushes the ball relentlessly in transition, can get his own shot in the mid-range when the offense breaks down, is in that funny area where he is a not a score-first point-guard but likes to over dribble all the time so much that its had to say he’s really pass-first.

Statistically Smith did take a step back from last season, last season he had a career best in scoring efficiency and his assists were down this year as well. Part of the decline is likely that he supposedly tried to play through his injury for a while which lowered his effectiveness, part of it is that Luke Kennard steadily took on more ball-handling duties with the bench as the season went on, part of it is that Dwane Casey offenses do not tend to favor lots of assists or particularly efficient scoring. Even so, it was a little bit disappointing that he couldn’t build on what was probably a career year last season.

The thing that remains tricky about evaluating Ish on offense is that a lot of his value comes simply from the fact that he pushes in transition all the time, the value of which is not always easy to quantify. This also is an issue because a disciplined team can often shut him out of effective transition if they focus on it so there are some games where he is utterly helpless.

In the end the biggest offensive issues came later in the season when Luke Kennard started to take some real control of the offense from the bench. Ish likes to have the ball and dribble a lot and not always the best at finding shooters in the half-court, and is such a bad shooter that he isn’t all that useful when Kennard has the ball. It’s not clear if Ish will stay with the Pistons so it may not matter in the future but it would’ve been nice if they could’ve worked that out a bit better.

Still, the consistency with which Ish has great on/off splits speaks for itself. The way he is able to constantly get out in transition just works for a bench mob and makes them effective.

Defense:

Ish is active on defense, but that’s about all you can say. His size causes issues because you can’t do any switching with him and he even struggles to deal with bigger point-guards. To make matters worse, he tries to block jump shots all the time and to make up for his size he jumps really close to guys and fouls shooters with a frightening regularity. His activity does occasionally result in good things but it also regularly results in him being totally out of position causing a breakdown of some sort or another.

Many of his defensive issues stem from him simply being very small so it isn’t something you hold against him, and he clearly tries hard on defense which is worth something, but his effort often just wasn’t put into a terribly constructive area to give real benefits. So while not a terrible defender, even with all the mistakes if you play hard you are not a terrible defender, he was typically a weak point.

Best takeaway from the season:

If he leaves Detroit his on/off splits will be something we will talk about for a while. His individual numbers often looked miserable and the eye test was even unimpressive often, but 3 straight seasons of excellent on/off splits can’t be argued against at this point. It’s a huge sample-size to go off of.

Worst takeaway from the season:

Reverted back to previous scoring efficiency. Smith got all the way up to a true shooting percentage of 52.5% last season, which is still poor but its a normal sort of poor. Even with all of the good things he brings, falling back below 50% is tough, when you look across the NBA at rotation players with a TS% below 50 its largely young guys who will hopefully get better or defensive specialists. Just tough to work with.

The Verdict:

Ish Smith had never signed a multi-year or guaranteed deal before signing with the Pistons. He played more minutes over the last three seasons than the rest of his career combined. Is it possible that SVG had an unhealthy obsession with undrafted journeymen players? Yes. Was Ish Smith one that really worked out? Yes. I’m not sure if Smith will return next season, I’m not even sure that I think they should try to bring him back, but if he has played his last game in a Pistons uniform his tenure will be one most fans will look back on fondly. Most of the frustrations that Ish gave were a result of him not being good enough to be a starter, which isn’t his fault given that he was brought in to play backup. Over some seasons that were often pretty miserable, the occasional game where Ish would get cooking and start crossing dudes over and nailing mid-range jumpers were a rare bright spot, and when he was able to get out and run his game was just fun to watch. You also have to feel good that a guy who is widely loved as a great teammate and hard worker got paid.