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NBA AM: Pistons Look To Ish Smith For Continuity

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Pistons Relying on the Well-Traveled Ish Smith Early This Season

“Continuity” and veteran point guard Ish Smith typically aren’t synonymous. One implies a measure of consistency, the other speaks of perseverance and the uncanny ability to somehow thrive in constantly changing environments. The Detroit Pistons signed Smith to a three-year, $18 million deal in free agency this past summer and when the guard steps on the court opening night, it will mark the 10th team he has logged a regular season minute for since entering the league.

The 10th team.

In six seasons, Smith hasn’t logged over 75 games for any franchise, but the Pistons provide an opportunity for stability (as evidenced by the multi-year deal). The veteran has an even bigger opportunity to entrench himself into the team’s future with starting point guard Reggie Jackson expected to miss the first two months of the season due to knee issues.

Most players in a new environment might crumble while dealing with the increased expectations while adapting to a new style, but Pistons head Stan Van Gundy insists that logic flies out of the window when dealing with Smith and his well-traveled background.

“Ish will be great,” Van Gundy told Basketball Insiders. “It’s never easy being somewhere new again, but he’s done very well. Ish is a smart guy and his advantage is he’s played just about everywhere and in every kind of system. He picks things up quickly, he’s used to things changing on the fly so this isn’t anything new to him.”

During the preseason, Smith averaged 7.7 points, 3.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists while averaging 26 minutes over six contests. Smith’s 4-to-1 assist ratio is impressive and for the Pistons, his ball distribution skills, especially in the pick-and-roll, will be a key component for the team to survive Jackson’s early absence.

Detroit finished last season ranked fifth in pick-and-roll play frequency at a little over 20 percent. This further speaks to the importance of Jackson’s presence in the lineup, as he was involved in pick-and-roll situations as the ball handler 56 percent of the time last season.

Here’s how Jackson compares to Smith last season:

Offensive Ball Handler – Pick and Roll – Frequency
Jackson (DET): 55.9 percent
Smith (NOP): 45.7 percent

Offensive Ball Handler – Pick and Roll – Points per Possession
Jackson (DET): 0.88
Smith (NOP): 0.67

Offensive Ball Handler – Pick and Roll – Field Goal Percentage
Jackson (DET): 44.5 percent
Smith (NOP): 34.9 percent

Offensive Ball Handler – Pick and Roll – Points per Game
Jackson (DET): 9.9
Smith (NOP): 3.3

There’s no question that the Pistons are losing a bit of their offensive punch without Jackson in the fold, but comparatively speaking Smith has always been the more prolific ball distributor of the two. The Pistons are undoubtedly banking on Tobias Harris, Andre Drummond and possibly Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to pick up the lost offense in the interim.

If Jackson can successfully make his latest transition seamlessly, Detroit will still be in the thick of things once Jackson emerges from the injured list.

Malcolm Delaney is No Ordinary Rookie

Over the past few seasons, the point guard position has been considered one of the Atlanta Hawks’ key strengths. But the 2016-17 point guards have more question marks than normal heading into opening night after Jeff Teague’s trade to Indiana this past summer.

Fourth-year guard Dennis Schroder takes over the reigns as the team’s starter, but the primary backup duties will fall into the hands of 27-year-old rookie Malcolm Delaney.

After going undrafted out of Virginia Tech, Delaney turned to overseas ball and thrived before signing a contract to join the Hawks. However, heading into training camp, Delaney’s role was a bit uncertain as the team also signed veteran guard Jarrett Jack during free agency. But after a strong preseason, Delaney made the opening night roster while Jack was released. There are two theories: Delaney impressed the staff that much or Jack’s rehabilitation from knee surgery wasn’t going as planned.

If you listen to Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer, Delaney’s advanced maturity and skill set carried the day.

“It has been unique,” Budenholzer told Basketball Insiders regarding having an older rookie adjusting to the league. “It’s almost not fair to call him a rookie watching through training camp and through [preseason] games. His disposition, he’s such a vet. It may be his first year in the NBA, but he carries himself like a veteran and understands the game like a veteran would.

“We’re very pleased he’s part of our group. It’s a nice addition. It’s a compliment to the basketball being played in Europe. It’s a compliment to the coaches in Europe. He’s been playing at a high level and we can see that in practice and in the games. We’re just very excited about Malcolm.”

In six preseason contests, Delaney averaged 6.7 points, 2.3 rebounds and 2.5 assists in 17 minutes of action.

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About Lang Greene

Lang Greene

Lang Greene is a senior NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last eight seasons

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