AUBURN HILLS – Ish Smith has been a member of the Detroit Pistons for nearly 13 months. That makes it the longest tenure of his seven-year NBA career, which has seen him wear 10 different uniforms. So even a modicum of permanence is appreciated.
And maybe that explains better than anything why Smith decided to make Detroit his off-season training base while most veterans spend it at off-season homes.
“When I was in high school, that’s when I took my biggest progressive jumps,” Smith said after a workout at the team’s practice facility. “We just did everything as a team and worked with our coaches. The biggest difference for me is finally I get a chance to be with a team over a summer. Why not work with your coaches? Why not use the gym, use everything, let them watch your progression, see what you can get better at?”
The Pistons moved fast to sign Smith in free agency a year ago, landing him only hours after teams could start negotiations and luring him with the first multiyear contract since he came to the NBA undrafted out of Wake Forest in 2011. He wound up playing a role even bigger than Stan Van Gundy envisioned, a result of Reggie Jackson’s preseason injury.
Smith started 32 games and averaged 24 minutes, sitting out just one game while averaging 9.4 points and 5.2 assists.
Chances are Smith won’t play as much this season and that would be a good thing in so far as it speaks to Jackson’s return to form. That’s Smith’s full expectation.
“I’ve been talking to Reggie. We texted the other day,” Smith said. “He’s doing well. He’s excited. Bounce-back season for him and myself and everybody, so he’s excited.”
Jackson’s excitement springs from the same basis as Smith’s – the additions Van Gundy made to recast the perimeter in landing Avery Bradley via trade, Langston Galloway in free agency and Luke Kennard on draft night.
“We got a heck of a player in Langston, who can shoot the crap out of it. Great defender. Avery, I think he’s first-team All-Defense and I think he’s offensively better than what people give him credit for. He can shoot the basketball. He’s a heck of a backcourter. Luke, shoot, I’m not a Duke fan” – Smith played at ACC rival Wake Forest – “but I’m excited about Luke. He reminds me of – I don’t want to say this, because Chris Mullin is a Hall of Famer – but he reminds me a little of Chris Mullin and how he plays, his niftiness.”
The fact all those players can do things to help the offense beyond putting the ball in the basket especially intrigues Smith. It’s the way of the modern NBA, he says.
“The game has changed,” he said. “It’s still a point guard-heavy league, but when you’ve got so many guys who can create, that’s how the game is. It’s read and react. Look at Golden State. They’ve got four or five guys. Reason why Cleveland didn’t beat ’em is Cleveland’s got two guys in LeBron (James) and Kyrie (Irving).
“Langston and Avery, absolutely, they do that for us. Then you add Luke in there. Coach did a great job of adding those guys. They can do a lot of things off the bounce, can shoot it and great defenders. Filling those voids, Coach did a great job.”
Even with Smith’s faith in Jackson’s comeback, he expects to be squarely in the mix of a core he anticipates opening eyes this season. At 29, Smith believes his best basketball has yet to be played, sharpening his bread-and-butter mid-range game and working to improve his shooting range over this off-season.
“You ask me, I just got started. Now’s kind of the tip of the iceberg for me. It’s constantly getting better, each and every year. If you ask me, the sky’s the limit.”