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Ish Smith has shown to be a solid backup point guard

The veteran has made a good first impression in Washington so far.

Washington Wizards v Golden State Warriors Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

It’s safe to say I wasn’t a fan of the Wizards signing Smith. Here’s what I wrote in a review of offseason moves I did with Yanir Rubinstein:

Awful: Ish Smith is their worst move of the offseason. At the league minimum, no problem. He can’t shoot, but he’s fast, he’s a veteran and he’s cut down on turnovers in recent years, so it’s possible to squint and side-eye your way to thinking he could be OK in a limited role. But, they used a portion of the MLE to sign him on the second day of free agency, and he’s basically a replacement level player.


In fairness to myself, Smith is basically the same guy he’s been except he’s shooting a career best three-point percentage (36.7%) and his second best two-point percentage (48.0%). His other numbers are within standard fluctuations within career norms.

Is Smith’s shooting actual improvement or a fluke? My guess: fluke. I have two reasons: first, Smith’s shooting form is terrible. When he decides to pull the trigger, he flings himself into the air while arching his back away and herky-jerking the ball towards the rim. It’s worked this season, but he hasn’t had a stretch of sustained accuracy in his 10-year career.

Second, his free throw shooting — generally a good measure of core shooting ability — is below average and slipped this season after a career-best .758 in 2018-19. My guess is that he’s due for some regression next season.

That said, Smith has still proven to be a valuable reserve and he’s likely to maintain at least some of that value even if he’s shooting closer to career norms. As I wrote last fall, he’s blazing fast and full of veteran craftiness. Watching him probe opposing defenses and hit crazy runners over bigger defenders was appointment TV in my household.

And, while it’s hardly a strength, Smith’s defense was acceptable for an NBA player. Let’s put it this way: while Smith didn’t change the Wizards’ league-worst defense into something even decent, he wasn’t the cause of their defensive woes either.

One of my gripes about his signing was that the team used a portion of the mid-level exception when I figured they could have gotten him for significantly less. While the cost assessment may have been correct, my concerns were overblown. His salary is relatively modest, the two-year contract appears to have hit that “just right” sweet spot of not too long and not too short, and with his solid play and mensch persona, he’s been worth every dollar to the Wizards.

Here’s a look at Smith’s performance EKG for the season:

Ish Smith performance EKG
Kevin Broom

The EKG shows Smith’s performance was fairly consistent this season. After some normal early-season small sample wildness, his production, according to my metric Player Production Average (PPA for short; in PPA, 100 is average and higher is better), fluctuated within a fairly narrow band throughout the season.

His rolling 10-game average hit a high of 120 twice — once after the December 6 game at Miami (that stretch included some terrific games: a PPA 291 vs, San Antonio, a 185 against Charlotte, 342 at Phoenix, 204 at home against Philadelphia, and a 157 against the Heat).

The other rolling 10-game 120 PPA finished up February 24 against the Bucks. The latter one was moderately more consistent (no net negative games), and included excellent performances against Charlotte (175), Dallas (181), Chicago (224), Chicago again (175) and Milwaukee (154).

Smith’s best and worst games came on a road back-to-back December 20 and 21 against Toronto and Philadelphia. On the 20th, Smith went 9-9 from the floor, including four threes, and 4-4 from the free throw line. Smith scored 26 points on 11 shooting possessions en route to a PPA 358.

The following night, Smith shot 0-7 from the floor and 0-2 from the free throw line and registered a PPA of -200.

Of Smith’s 60 games so far this season, nine rated a 200 or better — All-NBA level according to PPA (if he did it all season) — 22 rated average or better, and 11 were net negative. Overall, not bad for a backup PG.

While he’s had a good season for the Wizards and provided some real value, the Wizards should not hesitate to include him in trade talks in the coming offseason. They have an adequate replacement who can likely be signed for less in Shabazz Napier, and the front office might be wise to limit Scott Brooks’ backup PG options to force him to give Troy Brown some extended minutes in that role.