Washington Wizards v Detroit Pistons
DETROIT, MI - OCTOBER 10: Ish Smith #14 of the Detroit Pistons handles the ball against the Washington Wizards during a pre-season game on October 10, 2018 at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, Michigan.
Brian Sevald/NBAE via Getty Images

Ish Smith embraces role heading into 2019-20 season

Over the summer, the Wizards signed point guard Ish Smith. Washington brought back the speedy Smith, who was with the team in training camp and the preseason in 2015, to give the team depth at point guard and to bring his veteran leadership and personality to the locker room.

Needless to say, the transition to the nation’s capital has been easier for Smith than it would be for most. Smith has played for 11 teams now, though he did spend the past three seasons in Detroit, starting 67 games. The 6’0” point guard jokes about all of the places he’s played, but it’s all been part of his NBA journey.

Smith, similar to many of his teammates, arrived in D.C. a month in advance of training camp. He wanted to get to know his teammates and members of the organization. His family lives only a six-hour drive away in Charlotte, and they helped move him down to Washington.

“It’s been fun,” Smith said on the Off The Bench podcast this week. “I tried to get here early, which is really kind of cool. Last time all of the guys got here a month in advance, I was in Phoenix five or six years ago. And we [the 2013-14 Suns] had a really good season then. So hopefully we can replicate that.”

With injuries to John Wall and Isaiah Thomas, Smith is the clear-cut favorite to start at point guard for the Wizards come October 23. He started 50 games for the Sixers in the 2015-16 season, averaging a career-high 14.7 points and 7.0 assists per game. Smith, known for his fast-paced style of play, will be paired with two-time All-Star Bradley Beal in the backcourt.

Along with Wall and Thomas, the Wizards will be without Troy Brown Jr. and C.J. Miles for training camp. Several of the team’s young players, including Brown once he returns, will be asked to contribute this season. Those young players will be hungry to prove their worth and earn playing time. Washington will be a young team, but Smith still likes what he’s seen so far.

“We’re young, but the thing about it is that everybody has this love for the game,” Smith explained. “That’s something that’s infectious, it rubs off on everyone. That’s something that I love. Hopefully when you guys see me this year, I love to play the game. When you have that throughout the team, that’s something you can build off. And we’re young, so we should be flying all around, playing with great pace, and whenever you have an All-Star like Brad, you can play off him and try to make life easier for him too.”

Smith, who will wear number 14, also noted the Wizards have veterans who are trying to prove they still belong. Along with Smith, Thomas is looking to get back to where he was in 2016-17 with Boston. Ian Mahinmi and Miles are both strong locker room presences who still have plenty left in the tank to contribute. And then there’s Wall, who may not return this season but has a lot of motivation to prove people wrong when he eventually returns.

One of the reasons the Wizards signed Smith was for his veteran leadership. Anyone who interacts with Smith will tell you he’s one of the best guys around the league and has an infectious personality. Now, he’s tasked with helping a young team grow every day.

Smith has been around the league long enough to relate to most situations. To him, leadership is all about timing and being ready to address situations. Knowing how to talk to certain players and choosing when to speak up are all important when leading an NBA locker room.

“Everybody thinks when you get more years in the league, you’re a leader. I tell people that before you can lead, you’ve got to follow. There’s a lot of times the young guys are going to have something to say, and they need to speak up as well. Leadership comes in moments for everybody. I think that everybody thinks that when you’re a leader, you always got to be commanding the room, and I don’t think that’s true. That may be true for others, but I think for myself sometimes all of it is strategic.”

With a young team and unfortunate injuries ahead of training camp, the Wizards have high expectations for Smith. Camp begins on Tuesday, and Smith described his feelings as nervous excitement for the upcoming season.

“I have this nervous excitement. Like I said, been in a place for three years [Detroit], now it’s an adjustment. I’m really, really excited for training camp, then to the first preseason game, and the progression to the first regular season game. It’s just an excitement. In the past, you guys have had expectations with veteran teams. I’m sure everybody around the city feels a little uneasy. If we play smart, play together, it’s going to be fun.”

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