AUBURN HILLS – Ish Smith is low-maintenance and high energy. That’s a terrific combination for any player, one that Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy certainly covets.
The well-traveled point guard had a strong first season in Detroit, starting when Reggie Jackson was injured, and providing solid play off the bench the rest of the time.
Smith has continued to impress in the preseason. Through four games, he is averaging 15.1 points, on 57.1 percent shooting, and 8.0 assists in 27 minutes.
“Fantastic, and every night,” Van Gundy said. “When you’re pure and your mind is clear, it’s a lot easier to play well, and Ish never has any dilemmas. He’s not a guy who’s (complaining) about playing time or worried that he’s not getting enough shots, upset at a teammate that he thinks doesn’t pass enough. Ish just plays ball. Every day that I’ve known him, every day that I’ve coached him, Ish just plays ball.
“It’s not an easy game to play, but when you go at it with a pure mind of ‘I’m going to play when Coach tells me to play and I’m going to play as hard and as well as I can and I’m not going to worry about anything else,’ it gets a lot easier than guys who have dilemmas.”
With Reggie Jackson working his way back from last year’s knee injury (tendinitis) and a preseason groin strain – he’s averaging 10.0 points, on 39.1 percent from the floor, and four assists – might Smith earn the starting nod for the regular season opener Oct. 18 against the Charlotte Hornets at Little Caesars Arena?
“We’ll make those decisions when we get to Wednesday, but Ish has had a terrific preseason so far,” Van Gundy said.
Smith started 32-of-81 games in 2016-17 and overall averaged 9.4 points and 5.2 assists in 24 minutes.
Playing for his 10th team in his eighth season, he is highly motivated to maximize his ability.
“I’m just constantly challenging myself,” Smith said before the preseason. “I think you can always get better. I don’t know how good I can be. When I’m done, however long I play this game, I want to feel I got the most out of it. Try to get better, try to improve as a teammate. When your number is called, you might have to start, come off the bench, do what you got to do.”
His attitude is shaped by his perspective.
“I keep it simple for myself,” Smith said. “There’s bigger problems in the world. I get to play basketball for three hours. When I step on that floor, I want to give the City of Detroit, Coach, my teammates every bit of ability, every bit of energy I got. Whenever that’s called for this year, that’s what it has to be.
“I most definitely have to get better. I can’t come in and see the same Ish. I guess last year was good. I’m so hard on myself that I think it can always be taken up to another level.”
The Pistons are seeing that in the preseason.
“Ish brings energy all the time,” Van Gundy said. “He has good games and bad games, but it’s really hard to point to a low-energy Ish game or a low-energy Ish practice. That’s the way he goes at it all the time.”
The Pistons hope the acquisitions of Avery Bradley and Anthony Tolliver addressed leadership concerns from last season. Smith also is a player capable of stepping up in that area.
“I’m open to everybody, people’s opinions of what they feel and see on the court,” Smith said. “I think you got to be a strategic leader. There’s going to be times where you’re going to have to raise your voice. There’s going to be times where you have to massage your voice and talk to (teammates). That just comes from knowing each specific guy, how he ticks.
“Coach is going to cuss and yell at me, I can take that. Another player might not be able to take that.”
Smith, who turns 27 on Oct. 26, signed a three-year, $18 million contract in 2016. Van Gundy was asked if he has provided the best value of any recent free agent the team has signed.
“Ish would have been a good value at about any amount of money with what he brings every day,” Van Gundy said.
Drummond impresses at line
Andre Drummond has made 12-of-14 free throws in three preseason games. It’s a small sample size but encouraging for a player with the worst free-throw percentage in NBA history (39.1 percent).
“Incredible,” Van Gundy said. “Right now, if there were a technical foul, he’d have to shoot it, right? I’d go with the guy with the best percentage.”
Seriously, though, Van Gundy added: “They’re not bouncing all over the place. You don’t get lucky 12 out of 14 times. He’s shooting them well, you have to give him a lot of credit for that.”
Full lineup for finale?
Van Gundy said everyone practiced Wednesday – they worked only half-court – and he’s hopeful everyone will be available for Friday’s preseason finale at Milwaukee (8:30 p.m., no TV, WWJ-AM 950).
Bradley (ankle) missed the past two games.
Jackson felt good after playing back-to-back games.
“He practiced Sunday, played Monday-Tuesday, practiced today,” Van Gundy said. “He’ll be through five days by Friday, so we’ll be fine as long as we don’t get a setback.”