The Ish Smith Story

The story of the (twice) Sixers and NBA journeyman point guard, Ishmael Larry Smith.

The Process introduced the league to many players who were given an opportunity to play and fight for a contract. Sixers fans were exposed to the the smiles of Jakarr Sampson, the thunderous blocks and dunks of Jerami Grant, the acrobatics of K.J. McDaniels, and the elite three-point shooting of Hollis Thompson, just to name a few. However, the tank era of the Philadelphia 76ers also granted an abundance of playing time to nomad players struggling to find a home. While Ish Smith was in no way new to the league when he joined the Sixers for the first time in 2015, the journeyman was given a great opportunity to be a starting point guard in the NBA. His second run with the Sixers, in his fifth year in the league, on his ninth NBA team, was considered his breakout year in the league. Let’s take a look back at the protracted career of the 30-year-old point guard.

When you think of Wake Forest Basketball, three names probably pop in to your mind: Tim Duncan, Chris Paul, and Ish Smith. Much like the Big Fundamental, Ish stayed at Wake Forest all four years and graduated in 2010, majoring in Religion. He was named a team captain his junior year and came off the bench in all 29 games he played in, averaging 6/3/2 for the Demon Deacons. In his senior year, he increased his dunk rate by 1000%, throwing down 10 dunks in 2009-10 (he had just one dunk up until then). Smith also drew a team-high 6 charges his senior year, as an homage to Ersan Ilyasova (fun fact: although Ish and Ersan each had two stints with the Sixers, they never played a game together while on the Sixers AND although they were teammates in Milwaukee in 2012-13, they played a total of 7 minutes together, on April 12th, 2013 in the Bucks loss against the Hawks.)

But back to Smith’s senior year, where he averaged 13/6/5 along with 2 steals per game. In the 2009-10 NCAA Tournament, Smith and the 9th-seeded Demon Deacons knocked off the No. 8 seed Texas Longhorns and freshman Avery Bradley. Smith’s collegiate career ended shortly after, as Wake Forest was knocked off by the top-seeded Kentucky Wildcats, led by John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, and Eric Bledsoe.

Ish is the only Wake Forest player with 1,000 career points and 600 career assists, and the first player to have 1,000/600/400.

After entering the 2010 NBA draft, the Ish Smith roller coaster really began.

Smith went undrafted, but was signed by the Rockets after the draft. In the 2010-11 season, he bounced back and forth between Houston and the then-named D-League, but in February 2011, he and Shane Battier were traded to the Memphis Grizzlies.

TEAM COUNTER: 2
YEARS: 1

After Smith put up a cumulative 2/2/1 for the Rockets/Grizzlies in the 2010-11 season, he was waived by the Grizzlies on December 14, 2011, and then claimed by the Warriors on December 16th. Only a month later, Smith was waived by the Warriors on January 13, 2012. Another month passed by, and another team scooped Ish. This time it was the Orlando Magic in early February.

TEAM COUNTER: 4
YEARS: 2

Ishmael stayed with the Magic for a full year and 19 days until he was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks on February 21, 2013, where he remained for the rest of the season, and was swept out of the first round by the Heat. He was then traded to Phoenix on August 29, 2013.

TEAM COUNTER: 5
YEARS: 3

After a full year and 70 games played in Phoenix, the 2014-15 season was pure anarchy for Smith. He was waived by the Suns on July 15th, signed by Houston on July 18th, waived by the Rockets on October 27th, and then signed with OKC on November 7th. He stayed with the Thunder until February 19th, when he was traded to New Orleans and immediately waived. Two days later, he began his first run with the Sixers, as Sam Hinkie claimed him for the rest of the season.

Smith signed with the Wizards in the summer of 2015, but was waived before the season began. However, the Pelicans reclaimed him and he played 2 months in NOLA until he was reacquired by the Sixers.

TEAM COUNTER: 9
YEARS: 6

Smith’s breakout season came with his second run with the Sixers, where he averaged 15 points, 7 assists (!!!), 4 rebounds, and a steal in his 4 months with the team. Nerlens Noel benefited more than anyone else on the team, with Noel calling Smith “the first true point guard he ever played with.” (Which might not be saying much as Nerlens had played with MCW and a rotating cast of 10-day contracts).

The second tour with the Sixers attracted the attention of Stan Van Gundy and the Detroit Pistons, who offered a 3 year/$18 million contract, which Smith graciously accepted.

Final count (so far):
TEAM COUNTER: 10
YEARS: 8

So just how? Why Ish? Why so often? Well, when Ish Smith first broke in to the league, he was an undersized, lightweight guard who struggled defensively and couldn’t consistently shoot from distance. But NOW, he’s an undersized, lightweight guard who still struggles defensively and shoots in the low 30% from three; but somehow, the lightning quick, pass-first guard kept finding ways to positively impact teams and made his mark as a reliable bench player and valuable trade asset. He never made above $1 million in one contract until the 2015-16 Sixers deal where he made $1,000,602. His sub-$1 million contracts made him a great piece to attach in trades and a great contract to claim in waivers.

Thus, the journeyman Ish Smith was born, always keeping a positive attitude as he moved from team to team, living by the motto “The Next Move is the Best Move.” Ish was waived a total of 6 times, traded 5 times, and 3 times played for the same team on separate occasions (Rockets, Pelicans, Sixers). Stories circulate that he would live in hotels or at teammates’ houses, instead of renting an apartment, because he knew the high likelihood that he would soon be on the move.

His staggered reign with the Sixers was a fun one, as his acquisition near Christmas of 2015 was a catalyst for fans to start asking “crap, are we too good?” (no, we weren’t, we still ended up picking Simmons first overall). On 16 occasions, Ish scored 20+ points for the Sixers. On January 9, 2016, Ish had his career high in a losing effort to the Raptors for the then 4-34 Sixers. Nine days later, he had an extremely exciting 16 point, 16 assist game against the Knicks on MLK day in a triple overtime loss. He had other 20+ point games, but most of them ended in a reluctant loss for the tanking team. His career high in a win in his time in Philly came on January 4, 2016 against the Timberwolves, as he recorded a double-double (21p/11a).

The tale of Ish isn’t over yet. He turned 30 on July 5th and is entering his final year of his 3-year deal with the Pistons, before becoming an unrestricted free agent in the 2019 class. As the always smiling and upbeat point guard prepares for the next chapter, just know that the next move is the best move.

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