Russell Westbrook. Ricky Rubio. John Wall. Chris Paul. Ish Smith. Ish Smith?
Scan through the NBA’s assist leaders two weeks into the 2015-16 regular season and you’ll see four household names at the top of the list. Then at the No. 5 spot is a sixth-year pro now playing for his ninth different NBA team, who signed with his current squad just 24 hours before New Orleans tipped off this season at Golden State.
Amid an injury-ravaged start for his new club, the 6-foot, 175-pound Smith is one reason the Pelicans (0-6) haven’t dropped to the bottom of the league in offensive efficiency, currently 19th according to Basketball-Reference.com. Smith has handed out 45 assists in six games, an average of 7.5 per game that ties him for fifth place in the NBA. One day after becoming a Pelican, the Wake Forest product registered nine assists at Golden State; he had a career-best 11 vs. Atlanta on Nov. 6. Despite his last-minute signing on the eve of the campaign, Smith has more than doubled the assist total of any of his teammates.
“He’s doing a great job of pushing the basketball,” Pelicans Coach Alvin Gentry credited. “This is a guy we picked up a week and a half ago. It’s been an adjustment for him. He’s done a good job. He’s tried to do everything we’ve asked him to do. That’s been really good.”
“The (important thing) for me is chemistry, finding out where guys like the ball, when I should shoot the ball, when I should not,” Smith said of his rapid adjustment to playing for New Orleans. “It’s trying to find the feel with everybody.”
Smith has quickly developed an on-court connection with Anthony Davis, making the wise decision of making sure to look for the two-time All-Star around the rim or rolling through the lane. For example, during Smith’s 11-assist performance against the Hawks, each of Smith’s final four assists and five total were setups to Davis.
“He’s accomplished a lot in the short time he’s been here,” Gentry said of the 27-year-old. “He’s trying to play very unselfishly and has done a good job of getting AD the ball wherever we have drawn up plays. We couldn’t ask him to do more. I think he plays extremely hard and competitive. We’ve just got to hang in there and keep plugging away.”
On Smith’s second day as a Pelican, it was pointed out to him in the Oracle Arena visitor’s locker room that New Orleans is his ninth different team. The NBA is a 30-team league, but Smith quickly joked, “I thought it was 31 (teams I’ve been on).”
Despite never being able to settle in anywhere and having to change addresses numerous times – Smith has actually already played for at least one team in all six of the NBA’s divisions – the Charlotte, N.C., native has kept those adverse circumstances in perspective.
“It’s like once you feel good about a certain place, you have to move on,” said Smith, who coincidentally played his final college game in the Smoothie King Center, being eliminated by Wall and Kentucky during the 2010 NCAA Tournament. “But that’s how it goes. Everybody’s journey is different. I thank God for my journey and just continue to push.”