Free Agent Breakdown: Ish Smith

In-depth analysis of how Detroit's free agent signings fit on the court and on the payroll.



Detroit has signed Ish Smith as their backup PG -- a jitterbug journeyman that stands barely 6'0 tall, in shoes -- to a three-year contract. For fans that had hoped Stan Van Gundy would be able to land Matthew Dellavedova as his backup PG, the Smith signing might have been a disappointment, at first. However, Smith is probably a better fit for the Pistons than Delly, for two reasons.

1. $$$$

The details of the Ish Smith deal haven't been released yet, but it's reportedly a 3-year/$18 million contract. With the cap rising faster than Obama approval ratings amidst Trump disgust + Hilary apathy, a quality backup PG taking up only $6 million a year is unbelievably efficient value. A $6 million share of a team's salary just doesn't mean what it did last summer. The Lakers just signed Timofey Mozgov -- who scored a grand total of 15 points in the postseason -- to a 4-year/$64 million dollar deal! That's $16 million a year!!! Last year, Russell Westbrook made $15.7 million!!!!

The truth is: the Pistons could never really afford Delly. He signed with the Bucks to make $9.5 million a year, and with Andre Drummond inking a 5-year max, bringing in Ish Smith is more valuable by a smidge and a half. And good front offices have to consistently make the better value play in order to gain the types of little assets that end up netting a big payoff. This is true especially if you're not an attractive destination for marquee players. This is also especially true if the cheaper guy is a better on-court fit anyways.

2. P&R Playmaker

Smith might be the fastest player in the league, but his real strength is his ability to play out of the Pick & Roll.


P&R Strengths: 

  • Great vision, constantly scans for shifting holes in the defense
  • Uses change of speed to attack the momentum of his defender's body
  • Doesn't drive into dead spots where the defense can collapse
  • Strong interior passer, throws well-timed lobs on target
  • Finds open shooters

P&R Weaknesses:

  • Can't shoot if his defender sags off of him
  • Can't finish inside or draw contact
  • Doesn't have the tightest handle
  • Has trouble driving & kicking against long defenders

A secondary ball-handler is exactly what Detroit needs, and Ish Smith is straight-up better at that stuff than Delly. Reggie Jackson's usage rates soared to ridiculous heights last year, and Detroit finished in the bottom 5 for assists per game. The DNA of this Pistons offense is a Drummond P&R followed by a hard dive to the rim, and that sequence dried out fast against Cleveland without another floor general. While Delly is a much better shooter from deep than Smith, his P&R game isn't as complex and they finish at similar rates inside the arc. Although Smith isn't the hound Delly is on defense, where Delly's 6'4 frame helps him tremendously, Smith generates 1.3 steals per game compared to Delly's .6 steals per game. The bottom line is: Delly can't make 99% of these plays, not even on his best day . . .

. . . and Detroit desperately needed to buy these plays for a cheap price. Props to Stan Van Gundy for finding someone that fits both of those criteria to a T.

One of Detroit's needs Ish Smith does not address is perimeter shooting. Van Gundy wants to put shooters around Drummond rim-rolls just like he did in Orlando when he made the Finals. He's already made a few safe, cheap gambles on stretch 4s, both in the draft and in free agency. We'll take a look at those very soon, so stay tuned.

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