Add Ish Smith to a long list of Pistons who’ve played their best during 4-0 run
Brian Sevald (NBAE/Getty)
AUBURN HILLS – The Pistons are 4-0 since they made the trade for Blake Griffin and Griffin has sucked most of the oxygen from the room – to his teammates’ delight.
Andre Drummond nearly averaged 20 and 20 over last week’s three wins, won Eastern Conference Player of the Week and had a game that filled the stat sheet like no one’s done since Hakeem Olajuwon nearly 30 years ago – and that got some attention, too.
Stanley Johnson, seizing on opportunity created by the trading of Avery Bradley and Tobias Harris, got whatever credit was left over for successful stints guarding everyone from LeBron James to Damian Lillard.
So it’s understandable that almost no one has noticed what Ish Smith’s been getting done.
“He’s been really, really good,” Stan Van Gundy nodded after Tuesday’s practice.
How about 25 assists and two turnovers – a gaudy 12.5:1 ratio – over the four-game win streak? Or a .574 shooting performance while averaging 15.8 points and 6.3 assists in 32 minutes a game?
And the Pistons, who after going 3-12 from Dec. 27 after Reggie Jackson was hurt the previous night through Jan. 28 with the NBA’s No. 28-ranked offense, have been both the league’s No. 7 offense and defense over their 4-0 run to pull themselves back to .500.
Over the course of the week, Johnson scored a career-high 26 points, Reggie Bullock matched a career high with 22 points, Smith set a season high with 25 points and Anthony Tolliver matched a season high with 20 points.
“That’s what it takes is a lot of guys have played well,” Van Gundy said, ticking off pretty much all eight players who played before benches cleared in the final few minutes of Monday’s 20-point dousing of Portland. “We’ve gotten a lot of guys to play well and that’s what it takes to win.”
The Pistons hope to get Jackson back by the end of the month – the projection is that he’ll start running during the All-Star break – to complete the picture, but Smith’s steady hand has lessened the urgency.
To the extent Griffin’s arrival has altered Smith’s role with the Pistons running offense through their multitalented power forward, it’s only seemed to make him more efficient.
“We use Blake to initiate offense, but Ish gets plenty of opportunities,” Van Gundy said. “Ish is a transition player. Both Ish and Blake can find their opportunities. I don’t think we have anybody that can’t find their opportunities. Probably the guy we directed the most offense at other than Blake last night was Langston (Galloway) when he was in.”
Add Galloway to the list of players whose play has spiked over the past week. He’s coming off back-to-back 13-point performances off the bench with 10 assists and two turnovers serving as Smith’s backup while Dwight Buycks missed time with illness and at well as at shooting guard.
It’s important for Galloway and Buycks to give the Pistons good minutes behind Smith so Van Gundy isn’t compelled to extend Smith’s playing time and risk diminishing returns for a player who has to play at an elevated tempo to bring out his best.
“Some games, some matchups you’re matching his minutes with other guys, so it changes a little bit,” Van Gundy said. “But with his energy level I think ideally 30 minutes for him as a starter.”
“I called Jeff right as we pulled out of the arena where I can finally get phone service and he answered and said, ‘My guy scored!’ He was so excited. It was great. He’s just that kind of guy that people pull for.”
Jeff Van Gundy coached Hearn last summer and again in November as a member of the USA Basketball team attempting to qualify for a spot in the 2018 World Cup and endorsed him as an NBA player to various front offices.
“A nice moment,” Van Gundy said, “and good for Kay (Felder), too, getting on the court with a Pistons uniform on. He’s been on the NBA floor but with the Pistons uniform on (this time).”