The Trending Hornets series evaluates the career trajectories of Charlotte’s players based on two advanced stats - Player Efficiency Rating (PER) and Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) - as provided by Basketball Reference.
PER measures per-minute production standardized such as the league average is 15. A PER above 15 means a player contributed above league average. As a frame of reference, among this year’s PER leaders the Top 60 rated somewhere between 17.7 and 31.3.
VORP is a box score estimate of the points per 100 team possessions that a player contributed above a replacement level player. A VORP of 1.2 means the team was 1.2 points better off per 100 possessions with this player on the floor versus a replacement level player. Among this year’s VORP leaders the Top 60 rated somewhere between 1.6 and 8.6.
This week we will look at the trajectory of new arrival Ish Smith.
Career trend overview
There’s a reason Ish Smith is joining his twelfth team in what will be his twelfth NBA season: He’s just good enough to stay in the league but not good enough to make a difference.
And what’s most concerning for Hornets fans is the veteran’s advanced stats are trending in the wrong direction and plummeting fast.
Smith’s PER is a model for other players who go undrafted like he did to start his career. In 43 games as a rookie he posted an awful PER of just 7.6 but gradually improved year over year. His PER peaked in his sixth through eighth seasons when it hovered around the league average of 15. His last three seasons have been subpar with ratings of 11.8, 13.9, and 11.6.
Ish’s VORP screams “average” like almost no other player you can find in the NBA. Remember, a VORP of zero means a player contributed right at replacement level. In 11 seasons Smith’s VORP has been somewhere between -0.3 and +0.3 nine times. As with PER, Ish’s VORP has declined over the last three years when compared to his prime, but that’s only to be expected of a 33-year-old veteran.
What this means for the Hornets
Signing Ish Smith was a “win now” move for the Hornets. He’s clearly past his basketball prime but his veteran savvy and steady hand will make up for his below average play. He’ll fit nicely in Charlotte as they push for the playoffs in 2021-22.
Despite the declining advanced metrics, some of Smith’s skills are getting better with age. For example, last season he set a career best in Rebound Percentage at 8.6%, meaning he secured a higher percentage of available rebounds when on the floor last year than any other time in his career. His Turnover Percentage, or the turnovers committed per 100 possessions, has been better over the last three years than at any other point in his career.
In each of the last two seasons he has hit exactly 36.7% of his three-point attempts, respectively, which are career highs. While his overall performance has declined, his three-point shooting has never been better, though he’s a low-volume shooter from deep.
While Ish Smith is a familiar name to informed NBA followers, his advanced stats indicate Hornets fans should temper expectations next year. His PER has been well below league average over the last three years. His VORP has essentially been at replacement level. Odds are at this point in his career he will only continue to steadily decline.
Let’s hope Ish Smith’s veteran savvy and steady influence make a positive impact on the team in ways that aren’t measured by advanced stats, because those numbers are trending in the wrong direction.