2018-19 Season in Review: Ish Smith

Chris Schwegler/NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

Dwane Casey’s first season as Pistons coach delivered them to the playoffs after a two-season absence. The Pistons have 11 of the 15 players who finished the season either under contract for next season or holding team options to retain them.

With the 15th and 45th picks in the June 20 draft and the mid-level and biannual exceptions available to supplement the roster, there will be several additions on board when they gather at their new Henry Ford Detroit Pistons Performance Center in September to open training camp.

But as Casey said after the Pistons were eliminated by Milwaukee in the first round, “We’re going to have to grow from within. We have a lot of talent with our young guys, but they have some areas they can get much better.”

Blake Griffin emphatically returned to All-Star status, Andre Drummond likely would have joined him there had the Pistons not slumped during injury-riddled months of December and January and Reggie Jackson bounced back from two injury-plagued seasons. They again figure to be central to the 2019-20 Pistons.

Then comes the group of young players that played major roles during the playoff stretch drive: rookie Bruce Brown and former lottery picks Luke Kennard and Thon Maker, the latter acquired in February from Milwaukee. The Pistons also will have two other 2018-19 rookies who did most of their work behind the scenes, in practices and the G League, in Khyri Thomas and Svi Mykhailiuk.

Our Pistons in Review series continues with a look at Ish Smith.

PLAYER: Ish Smith
PROFILE: 6-foot-0 point guard/30 years old/9 NBA seasons
2018-19 STATS: 8.9 points, 3.6 assists in 22 minutes a game
STATUS: Smith completed his three-year contract with the Pistons in 2018-19 and becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1

DID YOU KNOW?: Smith more than doubled his rate of 3-point attempts over 2017-18 but it didn’t translate into greater accuracy. After shooting .347 on 1.8 3-point attempts per 36 minutes in 2017-18, Smith slumped to .326 on 3.9 per 36 this season.

A LOOK BACK: Detroit was the first place that gave Smith a hint of permanence over an NBA career that began as an undrafted free agent out of Wake Forest – where he was overshadowed by Jeff Teague – in 2010. Before signing a three-year deal as a free agent with the Pistons in 2016, Smith had played for Houston, Memphis, Golden State, Orlando, Milwaukee, Phoenix, Oklahoma City, Philadelphia, New Orleans and Philadelphia a second time in six seasons. Smith immediately was thrust into a larger role than the Pistons envisioned due to a knee injury that struck Reggie Jackson in 2016 training camp and made Smith the starter for the season’s first 21 games and 35 overall. He started 35 games the following season after torn ankle ligaments again sidelined Jackson. Smith started 67 games over his three seasons with the Pistons and averaged 9.8 points, 4.5 assists and 24 minutes in the 219 games he played. Smith proved amazingly durable – luckily for the Pistons – during Jackson’s two injury-riddled seasons. He played in 163 of 164 games over those two seasons, missing only a road game at Utah when he was made inactive as Stan Van Gundy felt he needed a day off. In 2018-19 – when Jackson was the only Pistons player to play in all 82 games – Smith missed 26 games with two bouts of a groin injury.

A LOOK AHEAD: Smith’s free agency presents the Pistons with one of their most critical decisions of the summer: Do they make a strong bid to retain him or do they prioritize adding size and talent at the wing positions instead? Though Smith remains a below-average 3-point shooter in an era where virtually every NBA team leans heavily on the shot, his quickness and penetration skills make him an effective point guard. Dwane Casey’s offense is predicated on penetration and 3-point shooting and Smith at least provides the former in abundance. With Jackson entering the final season of his contract, the Pistons could be motivated to invest in a quality backup point guard capable of challenging for the starting job in 2020-21 and beyond. They’ll have to consider whether Smith, who’ll turn 31 in July, can maintain his quickness – so vital to his effectiveness – over the term of his next contract. Smith also offered a beneficial contrast to Jackson in terms of pace, playing at a faster tempo that lifted the level of play from the Pistons bench unit. Smith’s intangibles – every teammate would cite him first as the player most likely to lighten the mood of the locker room – add to his attractiveness as a candidate to continue in his current role.

MONEY QUOTE: “That’s my guy. They asked me about him when it was first a possibility to sign him and I was all for it. He’s been my dude since we were playing in college. I know what he’s all about. I feel like I know what’s in his heart. He’s going to give you everything he has. I always wish him the best. That was one of the tougher ones, to realize that we might have laced it up as teammates for the last time.” – Reggie Jackson after Game 4 of the Pistons playoff series with Milwaukee

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