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2021-22 Wizards player evaluations: Ish Smith makes his comeback in Washington

The Wizards guard signed with the Charlotte Hornets in free agency, only to see himself return via trade at the deadline.

Dallas Mavericks v Washington Wizards Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

In what seems like an eternity ago, just under a year ago, Ian Decker evaluated Ish Smith’s 2020-2021 season with the Washington Wizards. The main question hanging over the excellent evaluation by Decker was: will Ish Smith be back with the Wizards?

As is often the case with the Wizards, the answer was both Yes and No. Or, No and Yes. Or, maybe. No, he didn’t come back. But, yes, General Manager Tommy Sheppard eventually found a way to correct his error and sign him for just over a third of the season:

The other #SoWizards part of this was that this trade cost Washington Montrezl Harrell. At least they did get Vernon Carey and a conditional second-round pick from the Hornets (via the Celtics).

Season Evaluation

Locker Room presence — Ish has been, reportedly, a glue guy, a vet guys can relate to. In a team that featured an injured Bradley Beal and a large number of contributing young guys in the main rotation (Kispert, Hachimura, Avdija, Gafford) this was a positive. Tommy Sheppard acknowledged that much when he traded for Smith at the deadline:

If you want some face-time with Sheppard, here is the actual footage, thanks to our own Matt Moderno:

Statistical lines — Ish came off the bench in all 28 games. He provided a scoring impact with 8.6 points per 22 minutes per game. For comparison, in 2019/20 he scored 10.9 points in 26.3 minutes and in 2020-21, 6.7 points in 21 minutes per game. Impressively, he dished 5.2 assists to just 1.5 turnovers (that gives a 3.4 ratio, while Aaron Holiday’s ratio was 1.9). He shot a decent 35.7 percent from deep (32.5 percent for his career) on 1.5 attempts, and remarkably was at 40 percent earlier in the season with the Charlotte Hornets (though on a low usage of 0.7 attempts). Interestingly, his free throws took a hard hit this year with 60 (!) percent as a Wizard, and 63.2 percent as a Hornet. Given that people usually argue for a correlation between 3-point shooting and free-throw shooting this definitely looks like an aberration.

The pace — It never really made sense that the backup point guard rotation to start the season consisted of Aaron Holiday, Raul Neto, and Cassius Winston. I don’t even want to get into the Is Spencer Dinwiddie a Point Guard discussion.

The problem, obviously, was the serious lack of size: Holiday stands at 6’0”, Raul Neto is generously listed at 6’2”, and Cassius Winston is also generously listed at 6’1”. Hey, this is a lot of size compared to Sheppard earlier 40-game experiment with Isaiah Thomas. But unfortunately, none of these three guards had anything near the scoring prowess of Thomas.

To make it worse, Neto, the tallest and arguably the strongest of the bunch, was really best deployed as an undersized shooting-guard. And indeed, the Wizards suffered immensely from this particular roster misconstruction by the front-office. This was evident both on the defensive end where the Wizards could not switch effectively with those guards, but also on the offensive end, as Neto had a forgettable season shooting from behind the arc (29.2 percent) and Holiday shot a career-worst 34.3 percent from deep (excluding his rookie season).

What is more, Neto, as already mentioned, was not really facilitating as a natural point-guard. More often than not, it felt that Neto was looking for his stats, and you can’t really blame a guard that is turning 30 in a couple days and signed to an expiring minimum contract for doing that. Aaron Holiday was OK, but he was playing with a noticeable lack of enthusiasm (just watch some of the tape from his 22 games at Phoenix to end the season to see what I mean).

This long prelude is to explain just how valuable Ish Smith addition was at the tradeline (obviously, I am exaggerating a bit here). Ish provided spark, energy, and some much needed pace. Mainly, he was just happy to be here. Perhaps this is all encapsulated by Chase Hughes who quoted him saying,

“I’d like to be here. I’ve got a team option, so if you want to call [team president] Tommy [Sheppard] and tell him,” Smith said.

And, to be honest, I hope Tommy Sheppard does find a way to re-sign Smith.

Smith’s $4.725 million becomes guaranteed on July 1st, though I find it hard to believe the Wizards will actually bite the team-option. They are probably better off renegotiating a 2 or 3 year deal at around 3 million, hopefully with no Grunfeldian player options.

Here are some of Ish’s best moments with the Wizards this past couple months, in the home rout of the Mavericks where Smith got to show case his skills (12 points, 9 assists) against the just-traded Dinwiddie: