Full Name: Ishmael Larry Smith
Contract Status: Traded to the New Orleans Pelicans on February 19th to make room for Enes Kanter, Steve Novak, D.J. Augustin, and Kyle Singler. Subsequently dropped, signed for rest of season by 76ers. Now a free agent.
Ish Smith was born and raised in Charlotte, North Carolina. Smith graduated from Central Cabarrus High School in 2006. While in High School, Smith set an all-time team assist record, and was named one of the nation's top 130 prospects. Ish decided to stay in-state for college, selecting Wake Forest. At Wake Forest, Smith won the starting point guard position for three of his four years with the school. Overall, Smith's career was up and down. Freshman year saw Ish lead the ACC in assists, but sophomore year saw his assist numbers take a nosedive. Junior year saw Smith lose his starting spot, coupled with a significantly lower three point percentage. Smith got a much higher usage rate on offense during his senior year, and his assists were back at freshman levels. As a team, the Demon Deacons reached the NCAA Tournament in Smith's Junior and Senior year, though they never got past the second round.
From there, Ish Smith's career has been an absolute whirlwind. Smith went undrafted in 2006, and has visited 8 different NBA franchises in the ensuing years. Smith only played with one team for more than one season, the Orlando Magic. And even then, the Magic only had him for a total of year and two weeks, in which he appeared in 56 games. Smith's most games for one team came last year with the Suns, when he logged 70 appearances, shot 42% from the floor, and dished 6.4 assists per game.
Ish Smith got his chance with the Thunder this season by dumb luck, it seems. He was cut from the Rockets training camp, losing out on one of the spots given to Troy Daniels or Nick Johnson. That usually spells D-League time or an overseas contract, but Smith was able to sign with the Thunder just 11 Days later. OKC had endured a terrible rash of injuries, and the Thunder had only one healthy point guard on the roster. Smith was signed to fill out those backup minutes on the bench. Reggie Jackson was soon to return though, and Sebastian Telfair had a guaranteed contract. From the view afar, it appeared as if Smith was nothing but an emergency fix.
Regular Season Grade: B-
Somehow, though, Ish stuck around. Even though Smith spent almost all of his time as a third string point guard, Scott Brooks kept finding ways to use Ish in different lineups. Smith's speed definitely gives him a unique advantage when driving the ball. As such, Brooks liked to use Smith at shooting guard when the situation called for it. In fact, there was a five game stretch from Dec 23rd-Dec 31st where Smith was consistently part of the rotation, basically as a shooting guard.
Unfortunately, even at his peak, Ish Smith was not a fit for the Thunder. Smith is an atrocious shooter, and did nothing to help OKC in that area. During Smith's tenure, OKC was the worst three point shooting team in the NBA. Some of the worst three point shooters on the team (Jackson, Westbrook, Roberson, Jones) were playing next to Smith. Any way you look at it, it was really hard to see him having a positive impact long-term.
Still, it's really hard to think of a game where Smith had a negative impact, either. Ish never really gave up too much defensively. Offensive plays tended to be wild, but the sheer entertainment value of watching Ish stampede across the floor was worth the risk. Also, Smith never took too many shots and was an extremely willing passer.
Most Notable Game/Moment: Gets really hype, scores 8 points on old team
Unfortunately, there's no public highlights of Ish Smith's 8 points on December 31st, a Thunder career high. But let is be known that those 8 points came against the team that dropped Smith after his great season last year. Also let it be known that this celebration is from that same game, and involves him getting really hype with Reggie Jackson. I don't think I've ever seen D.J. Augustin this excited.... In any case, the win could have been important. It helped OKC win the season series with the Suns, whom were also competing for the 8th spot.
Smith has made a name for himself in Philadelphia, reportedly gaining the trust of franchise big man Nerlens Noel. Noel has voiced support for retaining Smith next season, and Smith proved himself enough to start 11 straight games. However, Smith shot under 40% for the Sixers and has a high assist to turnover ratio. The Sixers will certainly have spots open, but Smith will likely be very low on their list of priorities. It's anybody's guess as to whether they sign Ish, but I'm certain the NBA hasn't heard the last of him.
What did you think of Ish Smith this season? Drop a comment and let us know!