Ish Smith talks of unique road to Detroit

Spencer Davies

As a man whose number of teams exceeds the amount of seasons in his career, Ish Smith has had a rather interesting stay in the NBA.

“What, 35?” Smith jokingly told Amico Hoops of his twisting, turning path.

Fresh off of earning his first ever multi-year deal with the Pistons, the road was not a conventional one by any means for Smith.

In 2010, the Wake Forest product went undrafted and was signed by the Rockets as a rookie free agent to begin his journey. After multiple stints in the D-League and 28 games with Houston, he was traded to the Grizzlies at the trade deadline later that year.

It would be only the beginning of a long, winding ride for Smith. Over the next five years of his career, the 28-year-old point guard spent time in six more cities on small contracts with, aside from some sporadic starts, minimal playing time.

That kind of instability and uncertainty usually results in driving players away to pursue other opportunities, but Smith grinded through it.

“For me, my journey’s been great,” he said. “I don’t wish that upon anybody—my journey I went through—but I can handle it. God put me in those positions because I know for a fact he knew I could handle it, and I learned from each situation.”

After fighting through the tough times, Smith found success with the Sixers after he was waived by the Pelicans in the latter half of 2015. Following a brief run with the Wizards, New Orleans claimed him on waivers before the start of last season.

But once again, Smith would part ways with the Pelicans via trade, and he found himself back in Philadelphia for the second time in less than a year.

While the situation may not have been ideal as far as record goes, Smith started in a career-high 50 games and saw the most playing time he’d ever gotten to that point. It was also his most productive stint, as he averaged 14.7 points and seven assists to finish out the season.

Smith’s determination opened the eyes of his old coach Stan Van Gundy so much that it resulted in his first significant pay day and a match with Detroit.

“It was just a feel to be like, 'This is tailor-made for my game. This is how I want to play—transition and pick and rolls and tons of athletes and shooters,’” Smith said. “Sometimes you just give the ball up and just get out of the way or you become a shooter. It was a lot of things that attracted to me and I thank God that I’m here.”

With Reggie Jackson unexpectedly going down with a knee injury in early October, Smith was vaulted into the Pistons starting lineup at the beginning of the season. It’s a change for him because of a new setting, but for his new teammates, he thinks it’s been a seamless transition.

“For me it’s been an adjustment, obviously, coming from a different team trying to fit in,” Smith said. “But the adjustment is getting better for me. I’m getting a little bit more and more comfortable—knowing where my shots come in, where specific guys want the ball, how coach wants us to play and different things like that.

“Obviously at home we’ve been really, really good, so we need to become road warriors. But we need all of our bullets in the chamber and we can’t wait to get Reggie back.”

One of the players making the change simple for Smith is Andre Drummond—along with Aron Baynes and Boban Marjanovic—especially in the pick-and-roll game, but that’s not the only thing the All-Star center helps out with.

“The thing that he opens up—sometimes you’re not even going to hit him with a pocket pass or a lob—he just opens up the weak side so much because he draws so much attention,” Smith said. “We’ve got some pretty good bigs and it makes your life easier as a guard, so all of us reap the benefits of them.”

As Smith referred to earlier, the Pistons are going to have to play significantly better on the road if they’re going to compete in this league. It’s a small sample size, but of Detroit’s six wins only one has come away from the Palace at Auburn Hills.

The year is young, but the splits are clearly telling of the story thus far. While playing in front of their home crowd, the Pistons are averaging 103 points per game while giving up less than 86 to the opposition. But as visitors the script is flipped, as they’ve allowed 105 points per game and scored about 95.

“Defense has to travel,” Smith said before Friday’s blowout loss in Cleveland. “Obviously, we’re taking these road woes now, but prefer them now than later or middle of the year.

“But you just learn. You just figure out what you’ve got to do and what it takes. Defense always has to travel, and that’s a must for us. Offensively, it’s been no drop offs—home or away—but defense we have to bring it every game.”

Aside from the subject of his team’s struggles, though, Smith believes that the Pistons may be “the one” for him, and he’d like to be a part of the organization for the foreseeable future.

“This does feel like home now,” he said of the Motor City. “It was a little bit of an adjustment at first. I came from Philadelphia. I was there for a year and a half and so you think a lot and New Orleans and so you say, ‘Oh okay.’ It’s an adjustment.

“But when you get here and now we’re like 11 going on our 12th game [Friday], you start getting more and more comfortable—hanging with the guys, know what coach wants, training staff, everybody—so it gets more and more comfortable as you’re around.”