Pistons' Ish Smith gets high praise from idol Isiah Thomas

By Matt Schoch
Special to The Detroit News
The Pistons' Ish Smith drives around the Nets' Spencer Dinwiddie in the third quarter of the opener Wednesday night.

Auburn Hills — As a youngster, Ish Smith said he used to wear out old VHS tapes of Isiah Thomas that his dad saved for him as he grew up in North Carolina.

Now, the Pistons legend likes what he sees from Detroit’s veteran backup point guard.

The Hall of Famer did an interview during on the Fox Sports Detroit telecast during Wednesday's Pistons opener, telling announcers George Blaha and Greg Kelser that, with improved 3-point shooting, Smith could soar to new heights.

“If he gets that, you’re talking about potentially a top-10 point guard in this league,” Thomas said. “He’s got everything that you want a point guard in this league to have right now.”

Thomas was in town to recognize his friend Aretha Franklin in a pre-game ceremony before Detroit's 103-100 win against Brooklyn.

When told of Zeke's high praise after practice Friday, the 6-foot Smith gave it back.

“He was a big shot-maker, shot-taker, he was just clutch,” said Smith, 30, who was born in the summer of 1988, less than a year before the Pistons' first title. “Isiah, to me, was just special. In that era, during that time, at 6-foot-1, the superlatives could go on and on, but I was a big fan of his growing up.”

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Smith shot 1 of 3 from deep on Wednesday, and looks to improve on his career 30.1 percent mark in his ninth NBA season. He shot 41.4 percent on 3-pointers after the All-Star break last season on 2.3 attempts per game, after attempting 0.8 per game in 57 games before the break.

After shooting an average of 40.8 3-pointers during the preseason -- second-most in the NBA -- the Pistons shot 6 of 24 (25 percent) from deep on Wednesday.

They weren’t alone in futility, as the Nets shot just 5 of 27 (18.5 percent) from deep after shooting 35.7 3-pointers per game last season, trailing only Houston.

“A lot of it was if we would’ve hit the first couple, it would’ve gave us more confidence,” Pistons coach Dwane Casey said. “Even with that, we still have to take them. We turned down some threes that we had and it was because we felt like, our rhythm was off or whatever, but we have to take those shots.”

The Pistons were 17th in 3-point attempts last season with 28.9 per game, hitting 37.3 percent of the shots, fifth in the NBA.

Casey has talked about the team’s shot spectrum since being hired in June, focusing on 3-pointers and shots in the paint.

Rivals sidelined

While their alma maters have a big day Saturday on the gridiron, the Michigan State and Michigan products in training camp with the Bulls may not see the court Saturday night against the Pistons.

Entering his third NBA season, MSU’s Denzel Valentine missed Thursday’s opener at Philadelphia and the entire preseason with a sprained ankle.

Michigan’s Derrick Walton got a camp look with the Bulls but was waived before signing this week with Zalgiris Kaunas of the Lithuanian professional league.

Walton played 16 games with Miami as a rookie last season. He had 16.1 points and 7.1 assists per game in 27 games with Sioux Falls in the NBA's G-League.

Injury update

Stanley Johnson (toe) and Reggie Bullock (flu) were full participants in Friday’s practice and Casey said he expects both to play Saturday after missing the opener.

Bullock did not practice Thursday, but Casey said he was a “spry chicken” on Friday.

Casey said Jon Leuer was available for Wednesday’s opener but did not play.

“The other night, it’s on me, but they were playing four guards,” Casey said of Brooklyn. “We were matching them and in in certain situations, they were matching us, but Jon’s available.”

Leuer played the first eight games last season before an ankle injury sidelined him the rest of the season. He then had offseason surgery on his right knee after injuring his medial meniscus during workouts.

Leuer made one preseason appearance, playing 2 minutes.

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg told the Chicago Tribune on Thursday that it was too early to tell if point guard Kris Dunn would debut Saturday after missing the opener for the birth of his son.

Rookie roles

Casey said he expects Zach Lofton to join the Grand Rapids Drive of the G League Monday when the clock starts on the 45 days he’s allotted with the Pistons as a two-way player.

With Johnson and Bullock expected to return Saturday, Casey said he still sees a role for rookie Bruce Brown, who started in their absence but did not score in 19 minutes in his first career game.

“Still, a defensive stopper,” Casey said. “If we ever need a stop, I don’t really hesitate to put him in. I’m not a coach that gets — there’s no doghouse here, with me. If we feel like a guy has a need that we have in a certain situation, he’s got to be ready to go in and do his job, whether it’s shooting, defense, whatever it is — energy, change the game. They got to be ready to do it.” 

Pistons at Bulls

Tipoff: Saturday, 8 p.m., United Center, Chicago

TV/radio: FSD Plus/950 AM

Outlook: The Bulls opened with a 127-108 loss at Philadelphia on Thursday. Zach LaVine led the Bulls with 30 points; he was 11 of 19 from the field.

Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.