The Tobias Harris trade has been written off as a colossal failure. The Milwaukee Bucks parted ways with a young, intriguing prospect the team had drafted only two years before and got 28 uninspiring games out of J.J. Redick before seeing him leave for a paltry pair of second round picks. A trade like that is basically a textbook example of how not to maximize an asset thanks to Redick’s strange fit in the Bucks rotation last season and his quick departure.
But there’s still some hope that the trade can be redeemed, on some level.
Is it ever going to be a really high quality deal for the Bucks? No. But could it give more than its getting credit for right now? Possibly.
It’s up to Ish Smith, the optimistic young guard who is still trying to find his way in the NBA. He’s been something of an afterthought everywhere he’s been in the league. In three seasons, he’s played for five teams. Thus far, he’s failed to make it through one season with one team. After playing in 36 games and starting three in Orlando last year, he found himself a throw in in the Harris-Redick deal and stuck behind Redick, Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis.
He’s not one to pout though. He’s just one to work.
“Personally, I still gotta get better at making some of those floaters, making some of those shots,” he said when we talked after his 11 point performance Sunday night. “It’s a part of the game and that’s what summer league’s for. Getting better, getting confidence in everything.”
“That’s what the summer is for: Getting better. You think about the great players, LeBron and Chris Paul and Michael Jordan when he played, they were the best players on their teams and they continued to work, so why should I not work? That’s my objective, to continue to work. I’ll never be satisfied.”
There’s no question Smith has got plenty of work to do. He’s yet to crack 40% shooting for a season. Last season he made just 35% of his shots in under 10 minutes per game between Orlando and Milwaukee. He looked overwhelmed at times when he did get some rotation minutes with the Bucks as a backup point guard. But he has at least one legitimate NBA skill: Speed. His speed and quickness that will go a long way if he can master an offensive game away from the hoop.
He’s taken to heart the desires of the Bucks coaching staff as they’ve encouraged him to use that speed to help the team.
“I’ve always played with speed, but now more than anything, coaches ask for us to play fast, to push the pace,” he said. “He told us during practices, he wants the ball pushed up there in four seconds or less. That works to our advantage because we got bigs that can run. That gives us early post-ups and even if we don’t get something in transition we get more time and more seconds to get from one side to the other in our offense.”
Smith has impressed the Bucks with his efforts in the gym and drive to get better every day. He’s focused on what the coaching staff wants him to do and aware he’s got a long way to go to be a steady rotation player in the NBA. He’s hoping that he can be that player in Milwaukee and encouraged about his chances with the new staff.
“So far so good,” he said of Larry Drew and his assistants. “Coach is great. Our coaching staff is great and like I said, I’ll just continue to work. If you work for them, you’ll reap the benefits and we’ll probably have a pretty good year this year.”
Given how much time it sounds like he puts into his game, I couldn’t help but wonder if there’s anyone he’s emulating while putting in all those hours in the gym.
“Back in the day my father used to have Isiah Thomas tapes so I love Isiah Thomas, the way he played,” he said. “But there’s a lot of guys I admire and respect their game. (Rajon) Rondo, Tony Parker people always compare our speed to each other, Chris Paul obviously, so there are guys on top of guys on top of guys. So it’s not one specific guy, I try and take a little bit out of everybody’s game. They are all really good, but the key that they have is that they all work really really hard.”
Smith sounds like he’s got the hard work part down. Everything else? We’ll see how it shakes out. As one of the last vestiges of the now infamous Tobias Harris trade, I’m sure the Bucks would like to see him get some of the rest down too.