Ish Smith was a solid veteran presence in what was a down campaign for the 2019-20 Washington Wizards. Ish’s role changed numerous times throughout the season, where he backed up former Wizards Isaiah Thomas and later on backed up newcomer Shabazz Napier. No matter if he was backing up those players, or starting (23 games), Smith provided sufficient PG play, often giving his teammates much needed easy looks.
His presence was important with a team that was extremely young (average age of 26) and also very limited on talent. His play contributed to the Wizards ranking top 5 in offensive rating for much of the first couple of months of the season. His play is very intriguing considering that he has a similar skill set to returning star PG John Wall, but question marks with the roster, could make it hard for him to fit with the team going forward.
Smith’s statistics across the board were good. He averaged 14.9 points, 6.7 assists, on 44.7 percent shooting and 36.7 percent from 3 per 36 minutes.
For a predominantly backup point guard, he showed that he could still contributed consistently night in and night out, and showed the ability to score at times when the team struggled to get easy looks.
Although opposing teams dared him to shoot probably more than the Wizards would have liked, Smith found ways to be efficient, especially when there were times where he was one of the few on the team capable of creating his own shot.
At times he took over games, including a career night against the Nuggets back in January. Ish finished with 32 points and 8 assists.
Smith took advantage of the Nuggets’ inability to guard pick and roll, and found open opportunities in mid-range (8 of his 15 made field goals came in mid-range) to get a number of clean looks and make the Nuggets’ defense pay staying back in an effort to limit his penetration to the basket.
Two nights later, Smith scored 27 points and 4 assists against the Boston Celtics. Both of these games were wins, Smith came off the bench, and were done without the Wizards leading-scorer, Bradley Beal. Needless to say, when needed, Ish stepped up and provided two big performances against two bonafide playoff teams, for what was the Wizards’ best stretch of the season.
Smith is a very patient floor general, who often uses the Steve Nash-like probing of defenses to find angles for shots, or shots for his teammates.
His quickness off the dribble, makes him difficult for defenses to contain and he puts a ton of pressure on other teams’ perimeter defenders. When Smith is able to penetrate into the paint, it, at times, leads to defenses collapsing, creating open shots for his teammates around the perimeter.
This also helps his ability to lead transition opportunities. Smith’s ability to push the pace is a nice compliment to the team’s transition game where he also gets defenses to cave into the paint, allowing him to hit trailing shooters for open shots.
Despite Ish’s quickness, he is still an undersized player in this league. At 6’ even, he is a candidate for teams to post him up and to take advantage of his size. Even when he is guarding the perimeter, he is not particularly adept to keeping his man in front of him and so his defense, along with some of his teammates, puts a ton of pressure on Wizards’ big men to protect the paint.
On offense, Smith has a tendency to over dribble, particularly during one of those Nash-like paint probing. The extra dribbling leads to some forced shots and stops the flow of the offense at times.
Despite what the statistics show this season, Smith isn’t a great shooter. He shoots a respectable percentage, but teams give him open looks because they respect his ability to penetrate much more than his shooting, and he does not make them pay on a consistent basis by knocking down those shots. Smith’s effective field goal percent is 49.2 percent (league average 52.9 percent) in large part due to a large majority of his attempts (75.5 percent) being 2-point field goals (league average 62 percent).
Nothing wrong with shooting more 2 pointers, but opportunities to space the floor will be needed if he has to play minutes next to Wall and/or Beal next season.
Future with the Wizards
With the return of John Wall, the minutes at PG will likely diminish for Ish, but then you couple that with talks of Troy Brown being an option at the backup point guard spot, one has to wonder what that means for Ish Smith.
Smith is 32 years old and on the last year of his contract, with a team that is in a semi-rebuild and void of a lot of cap space. It seems like he is a likely candidate in a trade if the team decides to fortify other positions on their roster.
Or if nothing else, Ish can be insurance if Troy Brown doesn’t pan out at the backup point guard position or the Wizards can hope that one of the two improves their shooting enough to be effective off the ball. This would allow him and Brown to play along side each other more or more with the aforementioned Wall or Beal.
There are a lot of options for Smith when it comes to the Wizards, but nothing is certain about his likelihood of staying on the team next season.