Our 2020-21 Wizards player evaluation series continues with point guard Ish Smith.
Veteran Leadership — Ish Smith is the definition of a journeyman; over the course of 11 years in the NBA, the diminutive point guard has played for 11 different franchises, spending no more than a total of three seasons in one city. For all the frequent flyer miles he’s wracked up since he entered the league in 2010, Smith — an undrafted free agent — has outlasted a majority of the players from his draft class, a testament to his work ethic, basketball acumen and ability to alter his game to fit the need of whichever team he suits up for.
Now north of 30, Smith is a spark plug off the bench and a veteran leader who can help coach young players, of which the Wizards have many. In the eight-nine play-in game, Smith gave a heated speech to his teammates late in the fourth quarter of a match Washington was destined to lose. But even in defeat, Smith, as a player who has spent over a decade in the association, was getting his team ready for the next game — the Wizards defeated the Indiana Pacers and qualified for the playoffs as the eighth seed in the east.
Statistical lines — The NBA is known for its stars. The top-selling jerseys of this past season were LeBron James, Luka Doncic, Kevin Durant, Steph Curry and Giannis Antetokounmpo. While the big names generate the interest for the NBA, its players like Smith, who has never averaged more than 12.6 points per game, that make the organization function. This past season, the Wake Forest product played 44 games, making 43 appearances off the bench. He averaged 6.7 points, 3.4 rebounds (second-best average of his career) and 3.9 assists.
The 32-year-old guard knocked down 43-percent of his shots from the field and 36.7-percent from three, which tied a career-best average set last year in his first season in the nation’s capital. Despite equalling a career-best percentage from behind the arc, Smith took just 1.1 attempts per game this season compared to 2.5 the year prior. The six-foot guard’s season-high in points (16) and assists (nine) were respectable, and he even brought occasional flair to the court.
His 21 minutes per game were down from 26.3 last season, but the addition of Russell Westbrook, a future Hall of Famer, and ever-reliable Raul Neto at the point guard position undoubtedly cut into his minutes. Smith played the final year of a two-year, $12 million contract he signed in the summer of 2019. Now an unrestricted free agent, Smith’s career trajectory tells us he’s destined to sign elsewhere.
Ish Smith is someone you want on your team; he doesn't need massive minutes to make an impact, and he happily assumes whatever role the coaching staff needs him to fill if it helps the team win. Even as an undersized guard, Smith hauled in over three boards per game thanks to superb anticipation and a will to find the ball. His overall production dipped this season, but former Washington Head Coach Scott Brooks often utilized three-point-guard sets, minimizing Smith’s statistical contributions.
With Smith and Neto each preferred as the team’s backup point guard at times throughout the season, and both being unrestricted free agents, General Manager Tommy Sheppard has a decision about which, if either, player he wants to bring back. Neto is three years Smith’s junior, averaged more points this season and was on a more team-friendly deal — the Brazilian made less than a third of what Washington paid Smith. While Smith’s time in D.C. might be up, he always will be highly regarded by the fans, coaching staff, front office and teammates.