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2021-22 Hornets Player Preview: Ish Smith

Charlotte’s own has the backup point guard role locked down in his homecoming

Memphis Grizzlies v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images

After 11 NBA seasons and playing for a record-tying 12 teams, veteran point guard Ish Smith has returned to Charlotte to suit up for his hometown Hornets.

Smith graduated from Central Cabarrus High School in Concord, N.C., earning MECA-6 All-Conference and Piedmont Player of the Year awards as both a junior and senior. He then spent four years at Wake Forest, leaving with the second-most assists in school history when he declared for the 2010 NBA Draft, in which he was not selected. He played in the D-League as a rookie with Houston and has been switched teams in-season five times. The man has been around the block and back.

Unlike most reserves on the Hornets roster, Smith’s role for the upcoming season is already clearly-defined. As mentioned in the Jalen McDaniels preview, the end-of-rotation competition is heated, and head coach James Borrego is still trying to figure out how to integrate new additions like Kelly Oubre Jr. and Mason Plumlee — not Smith, though. When Devonte’ Graham was traded, the point guard responsibilities were fully-heaped on LaMelo Ball’s shoulders, but the Hornets still needed an initiator for the 14 approximate minutes he’ll be on the bench each game; enter Smith.

Only so much stock can be put into preseason numbers (and 68-point losses) one way or another, but Smith played fairly well in Charlotte’s four exhibition contests. His best game came against Miami, in which he put up 10 points, four assists and three rebounds on 5-11 shooting. Last season, the Hornets were blessed with one of the league’s best point guard rotations featuring Ball and Graham. Smith doesn’t provide the elite floor-spacing that Graham does and is a few rungs lower as a playmaker and defender at lead guard, but for a team that needed an influx of veteran talent, he’s a capable replacement.

The biggest thing to watch for from Smith this season is his 3-point shooting. He’s made a name for himself in the NBA as a lightning-quick slasher and playmaker, but he also shot 36.7 percent from deep in each of his last two seasons with Washington. Smith’s long-range capabilities were discussed at greater length in an earlier offseason piece that delved deeper into his role on the team, but in short; if he knocks down nearly 37 percent of his triples, there are less potential spacing issues among the Hornets second-unit players.

It’s always cool when Carolina-born players come back and play for their home team. Smith is a product of the area and most of all, he can function at a high level maintaining the Hornets’ preferred breakneck pace while Ball rests on the bench.