OAKLAND — Ish Smith was given one practice to prepare for his debut with the New Orleans Pelicans.
And just his luck, his first game is against the defending champion Golden State Warriors on their home floor, following their championship ring ceremony before tipoff.
The 6-foot, 175-pound guard was signed Monday after being released by the Washington Wizards, where he spent the preseason, averaging 2.2 points, four assists and 11.5 minutes in five games. The terms of the deal were not disclosed per team policy.
“I do think it’s a good opportunity, but for the most part, you come in, do what coach asks you to do and try to be the best bet for your team to win,” Smith said after practice Tuesday. “Whatever that is, you’ve got to do it, fit, click for however long I can.”
The undrafted Wake Forest alum is a true NBA journeyman, playing with Houston, Memphis, Golden State, Orlando, Milwaukee, Phoenix, Oklahoma City and Philadelphia in his five years in the league.
After seeing just over five minutes in 30 games with the Thunder last season, Smith was waived and picked up by the 76ers and started 14 of the 25 games he played. He averaged 12 points and 6.1 assists per game, seeing nearly double the amount of minutes he got in 2013 with the Suns.
With Jrue Holiday playing limited minutes and Norris Cole (ankle) and Tyreke Evans (knee) sidelined at the start of the 2015-16 season, the Pelicans signed Smith out of sheer necessity. Nate Robinson was the only healthy point guard on the roster.
Putting on eight jerseys in five years certainly thickens the skin for a player like Smith, and getting signed with a new team the day before the NBA season tips off is just the latest in his collection of stories.
“This is totally different than what I’ve ever experienced,” Smith said. “I’ve been traded obviously, and then last year when I was with Oklahoma City, waived. With Philly, that was a good opportunity where I just went out there and just played. Here, coach (Alvin Gentry) just wants to play fast, so it kind of fits to the way I want to play, so hopefully it kind of is a good correlation.”
Smith is known around the league for his lightning-quick speed, and jelling with a fast-paced offense that Gentry is implementing could offer another opportunity for the North Carolina native to make significant contributions in the Pelicans’ injury-plagued rotation.
“What he really is, he’s really a bright player. (He’s) well-respected around the league, really high basketball intelligence,” Gentry said. “I don’t foresee any problems with him being able to go in the game (Tuesday) and contribute to our team. He is that kind of player. That’s why he’s been able to survive around the league. Maybe not solid in being with one team for five or six years, but he seems to always get picked up when he’s released, and to me, that’s a good thing,”
Philadelphia center Nerlens Noel called Smith “the first true point guard I’ve ever really played with” when he came in and helped the big man’s numbers go up after his arrival.
He’ll get the chance to dish it to another Kentucky product, this time two-time All-Star Anthony Davis.
His mindset playing alongside a talent like Davis is simple: just “get the ball to the hot man or get the ball to the roller and get the freak out the way.”
“No. 23’s not bad, you could just throw it at the rim,” Smith said with a laugh. “Not just him, the whole team — everybody’s good. I played with Ryan (Anderson) in Orlando and (Kendrick Perkins) in OKC so I’ve got a good relationship with these guys. Hopefully I just come in, play the role and do what I’m supposed. If that’s a little bit more, if that’s a little bit less, whatever it is I’m just trying to (help us) win as much as we can.”