More Than A Homecoming: Ish Smith is Here to Win

by Sam Perley

New Hornets point guard Ish Smith has been around the league quite a bit in his 11-year NBA career. In fact, when he first steps foot on the Spectrum Center floor for his regular season debut with Charlotte (presumably the Oct. 20 opener against Indiana), he’ll tie an NBA record by appearing with his 12th different franchise, a feat currently co-shared by four other players.

But for somebody so well-traveled in the sport, there’s some irony in that Smith is now right back where it all started, his hometown of Charlotte, NC. A former top-100 recruit at Central Cabarrus High School, Smith went on to star at Wake Forest beginning in 2006 before his long winding professional path began unfolding.

“Yeah, I wanted to be home, I’m not going to lie to you,” Smith stated. “I’m sure everybody is going mention it in every game we play. Every year, it’s about how many teams you’ve been on. I’m like look, somebody likes me. Eventually you’re going to have to say, ‘He can play and he’s here.’ I’m not tripping about that. [Being here] is something that I’m excited about, it’s something my family’s excited about. So, yeah it is something I wanted to do.”

Smith started out as an undrafted free agent in Houston, where he rotated between the Rockets and the then-NBA D League’s Rio Grande Valley Vipers throughout his rookie season. From there (and buckle up) he was…

  • Traded to Memphis (Feb. 2011)
  • Waived by Memphis and claimed by Golden State (Dec. 2011)
  • Waived by Golden State and signed by Orlando (Feb. 2012)
  • Traded to Milwaukee (Feb. 2013)
  • Traded to Phoenix (Aug. 2013)
  • Waived by Phoenix and signed by Houston (July 2014)
  • Waived by Houston and signed by Oklahoma City (Nov. 2014)
  • Traded to New Orleans (Feb. 2015)
  • Waived by New Orleans and signed by Philadelphia (Feb. 2015)
  • Signed by Washington (Sept. 2015)
  • Waived by Washington and claimed by New Orleans (Oct. 2015)
  • Traded to Philadelphia (Dec. 2015)
  • Signed by Detroit (July 2016)
  • Signed by Washington (July 2019)
  • Signed by Charlotte (Aug. 2021)

Prior to Buzz City, Smith averaged 9.2 points on 44% shooting and 4.5 assists in 112 outings (24 starts) over two seasons in Washington. He shot a career-high 36.7% from long range in both years and has also been to the playoffs two of the last three seasons. The six-foot Smith is known for his speedy transition play, crafty shot creation, stop-on-a-dime direction-changing footwork and perhaps most significantly, being an outstanding locker room presence.

Certainly, there’s a feel-good element to Smith’s signing and why wouldn’t there be? Few Charlotte natives have ever played for the franchise; Todd Fuller (Charlotte Christian) from 1999-2000 and then Jeff McInnis (West Charlotte) from 2007-08 are probably the two that come to mind. But Smith’s not coming home to just play in front of his friends and family – he wants to lead this young Hornets team and most importantly, he wants to win.

“[Leadership] is strategic,” Smith explained. ‘I tell people all the time, the loudest man in the room isn’t always the most right. You have to be very, very strategic and you got to know your guys. You have to get to know guys’ temperament. You got to know how you can get on them. We’re trying to come in here and win and… win big. This is a situation for us to take this thing to the next level and that’s what I’m here for.”

He added, “Honestly, we played against [the Hornets] last year on three different occasions and the way they played – the young guys, the athletic ability, the speed, the way they share the basketball, shoot and then how they defend – it was fun. They were hard to guard. It was fun to watch them play against other teams, scouting them. Now being on this side, [with] the speed and the pace that I play at, I think it’s a great fit.”

No NBA team played at a faster pace than Smith’s Wizards last year, clocking in at 104.67 possessions per 48 minutes – almost two full possessions more than the second-ranked Milwaukee Bucks. Charlotte hovered around the top-10 in this category before LaMelo Ball’s wrist injury in mid-March set in motion the squad tumbling down the league rankings.

And amongst the 263 players who averaged at least 20.0 minutes per game last season, Smith ranked second in the NBA in assist-to-turnover ratio (4.20), trailing only Denver’s Monté Morris. Again, that’s another area where Smith’s presence should have a resounding impact as the pass-happy Hornets are coming off a 25th-place finish in turnover percentage (14.9%).

Having just turned 33 years old, Smith is also old enough to recall first-hand the glory days of Larry Johnson, Alonzo Mourning, Muggsy Bogues and the original classic Hornets era. “I remember from 1988 to 1998, we held the attendance record for 10 years straight,” he said “Obviously, who got in the way of [us winning] was our now-owner, Michael Jordan. But I thought we had great teams and you want to get back to that level of play.”

Waived and traded more times than he can probably keep track of at this point, Smith grinded tirelessly for years to find his niche in the NBA. His career has finally come full circle and now, he’s ready to be part of another great Charlotte Hornets team, just like the ones he grew up watching all those years ago.

(Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images)

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