Two days before the season started, Ish Smith didn’t have an NBA home.
Now he’s settling in with the New Orleans Pelicans.
Signed on the eve of the season opener, Smith is having the best season of his career, averaging 10.5 points and ranking fifth in the NBA at 7.9 assists per game.
“I think anybody would be lying to say that he hasn’t (overachieved),” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “We were just looking for a guy that was going to be kind of solid and thought that we’d be able to play a few minutes here because he’d been in the league. But I think our style of play has really fit him well.”
Specifically, Gentry said, New Orleans’ up-tempo, spread-the-floor offense has given Smith room to operate and take advantage of his speed. It has given him a shooter in Ryan Anderson who gets to open space on the floor and a star in Anthony Davis who can roll to the basket and give Smith a shoot-or-lob option as he drives.
In his first five NBA seasons, Smith played for eight teams. He found the most success last season in Philadelphia, where he averaged a career-best 12 points in 25 games.
This season, Smith is averaging career highs in assists, minutes (28.8), rebounds (3.1) and steals (1.0). He’s sixth in the league in assist-to-turnover ratio at 3.68.
“I think this has been the situation where he’s got the most opportunities to succeed,” Gentry said. “Sometimes that’s what it takes.”
Smith has improved in making shoot-or-pass decisions, but his shooting remains an issue. He’s making 41 percent of his shots and 33 percent of his 3-pointers, and though those are among the best numbers of his career, it still allows defenses to play off him and go under screens when he has the ball on the perimeter.
But Davis has been encouraging Smith to work on his shot and to take the jumper when he’s open. On Friday, Smith got encouragement from a player who often has seen a similar defensive approach, Spurs guard Tony Parker.
“He said, ‘Thirteen years guys have been going under my pick-and-rolls, (and) they still can’t stop me,’ ” Smith said. “Hopefully I can keep that mindset.”
Stop and pop
Anderson’s numbers are up because he’s getting the offense down.
A comfort level in Gentry’s system, Anderson said, is a big part of the reason he has scored 30 points in each of the Pelicans’ past two games.
“I definitely feel confident in this offense,” Anderson said. “And I think it helps having everybody as a whole feel more confident as a group.”
Anderson is shooting 37.5 percent from 3-point range, including 39.3 percent on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers. But in the past two games, he has made 47.6 percent from 3-point range.
And part of Anderson’s offense springs from the Pelicans defense. When they get stops and run, Anderson said, he gets better looks before the defense gets set. In the past two games, he has made 5 of 10 3-pointers with 15 or more seconds on the shot clock, including 3 of 5 with 18 or more seconds showing.
“When we get stops and we can run off of a defensive possession, we get wide-open looks on the other end,” Anderson said. “And we’re aggressive and we have guys on their heels.”