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Ish Smith Making Most Of Opportunity With The Sixers

Sixers point guard Ish Smith talks to Liberty Ballers about his journey, development, and the organization.

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

For un-drafted players, opportunities to make an impact at the NBA level usually come few and far between. Many spend years dwelling in the D-League or overseas, in hopes of securing a ten-day contract at basketball's highest level. In that regard, Sixers point guard Ish Smith has had an easier journey than some of his un-selected brethren.

While Smith was able to latch on with an NBA team as a rookie free agent out of Wake Forest in 2010, playing time is a luxury he had not seen in his first five NBA seasons. Now in Philadelphia, the Charlotte, North Carolina native feels he's finally getting the opportunity to prove his worth.

"People look at me like ‘Man, this is your fifth year,'" Smith said. "People don’t understand I haven’t played, so really being out there this is my second year...playing consistent minutes."

Smith began his career with Houston in the 2010 season, where he spent 26 games there before beginning his North American tour of teams. He spent time with seven different teams before landing in Philadelphia, never averaging more than 14.4 minutes per game in his frequent stops. The 26-year-old did his best to stay motivated despite the issues in securing a long-term home.

"You never get used it," Smith said about the constant change in teams. "But it happens, it’s the job, you keep moving.

"The next city is the next opportunity, that’s how you got to look at it. Once you get the opportunity to play you hope and pray God brings out your best gift, and that works."

It's an opportunity he received when Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie, who Smith got to know during his stint in Houston, claimed him off waivers on February 22.

"I’ve been the third point guard since I’ve been in the league, [Sam Hinkie] was like this was a great opportunity. Just go out there and do what you do."

Smith has played 11 games since joining the team, averaging 23.8 minutes per game. While playing every night is a plus, he noted how excited he is about the team's culture as well. "People get misconstrued judgement about [the Sixers], and it’s the total opposite," Smith said about the Sixers. "We come into practice, we practice hard. Coach keeps it light, we joke around and laugh but at the same time he puts us in our place.

"When I walked in the locker room the first month, I didn’t know what to expect, but it’s been the total opposite of what I thought. You couldn’t tell that we only won 15 games."

Out of all the teams he's been with, he likens the Sixers to the Oklahoma City Thunder for their focus on player development. The coaching staff has taken strides to improve Smith's game as well.

"Coach Pierce is talking to me about playing with pace, changing different gears. [Coach Brett Brown] has been talking to me about taking my three ball, saying it’ll open up so much in the paint," Smith said. "So many of my other shots too. Floaters, lay ups, finishes. So he encourages me to take more three’s when I’m open."

Smith has also noted head coach Brett Brown's attention to the defensive side of the ball.

"Offensively he lets us play freely, but defensively he don’t play that. He knows that was a key for him when he was with the Spurs," Smith mentions about the team's philosophy. "People never really paid attention to defensively how San Antonio makes you do things you don’t want to do. So it’s all coach preaches to us."

It certainly seems as though Smith is taking the coaching points to heart. He's shooting more three's than ever, with 22 of his 96 career attempts from beyond the arc have come during his time with the Sixers alone. Smith is also playing stifling defense, and the team is much better with him on the court (96.7 DRTG) than off (102.5 DRTG) in that department.

"You can’t keep yourself in a box," he said. "If it’s uncomfortable, that’s usually not good for you. So you gotta get out of your comfort zone, and expand, and hopefully take your game to the next level."

Smith insists he's not focused on his future, an impressive quality for someone who has bounced around as much as he has. But if he continues to play as strongly as he has, he won't have to worry about leaving Philadelphia any time soon.

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