BY THE NUMBERS: Averaged 9.4 points and 5.2 assists in 24.1 minutes a game, making 32 starts and backing up Reggie Jackson in 51 other games. His field-goal percentage of .439 was a career high, but his 3-point percentage of .267 was below both his career average (.290) and his 2015-16 figure of .336, which was a career best.
SEASON IN REVIEW: Signed as a free agent in July 2016 to back up Jackson, Smith was thrust into the starter’s role to open the season when Jackson was diagnosed with left knee tendinosis early in training camp and was shut down for nearly two months. In 21 games, the Pistons went 11-10 as Smith averaged 10.8 points and 6.4 assists against a mere 1.5 turnovers in nearly 30 minutes a game. When Jackson sat out the season’s final nine games, Smith closed even more forcefully, averaging 17.1 points and 6.4 assists while shooting 46 percent in 31 minutes a game.
ALMOST ALL 82: Smith sat out one game this season but it wasn’t due to injury. It came in mid-January with the Pistons amid their worst stretch of the season, a 4-11 mark over 15 games in which their defense cratered, largely as a result of aberrant 3-point shooting: 45 percent from their opponents over that time. Stan Van Gundy decided Smith averaged just 5.1 points and 3.1 assists over his previous 14 games and shot just 37 percent. “We wanted to give Ish a little bit of a break. He’s been struggling, been a little frustrated, thought maybe sitting for a night would help a little bit,” Van Gundy said. Late in the season, Van Gundy lamented that decision to prevent Smith from joining Tobias Harris as the only Pistons player to play in all 82 games.
ONE POINT SHY: It was arguably the best win of the season for the Pistons, a 121-114 victory at Boston on Nov. 30 just before Jackson’s return. In that game, Smith scored 19 points – and the other four Pistons starters all scored 20 or more. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 25 to lead the Pistons, Tobias Harris added 21 and Marcus Morris and Andre Drummond scored 20 apiece. Smith, with 18 points, was fouled with 14.8 seconds left and the Pistons leading by four points. If Smith had made both shots, the Pistons would have had accomplished something rarely done in the NBA with all five starters in double figures. Smith made one of two to fall one point shy of a unique team milestone.
WHAT’S AHEAD: Smith has two years remaining on a reported three-year, $18 million deal agreed to with the Pistons last summer hours after free agency opened. In today’s NBA with the salary spike of the past two summers due to inflated salary caps on an influx of TV revenue, he proved a decided bargain. If Jackson returns to form next season, as the Pistons fully expect, Smith’s minutes probably will tick down. But Smith’s ability to create transition scoring chances and his pace-pushing style, consistent with Van Gundy’s wishes for his second-unit point guard, will make him a fixture in the rotation for the foreseeable future. Van Gundy is likely to tinker with two-point guard lineups to make better use of Smith’s strengths and to reduce some of the load on Jackson to create offense.
QUOTE TO NOTE: “Ish has been great. He was great in the beginning of the year as a starter the first 21 games and he’s been great in this role. The great thing with Ish is he’s ready when we need him to play bigger minutes and finish games and he’s a great team guy when he doesn’t get those opportunities. We couldn’t ask much more out of Ish. He’s had a terrific year for us.” – Stan Van Gundy in a late March visit to Brooklyn on Smith’s play