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Ish Smith could be the New Orleans Pelicans early-season MVP

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No, the presence of Ish hasn't translated to wins, but without him, New Orleans would be dramatically worse.

Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

When you think of Ish Smith, what comes to mind? A pass-first point guard whose positives in the assist-related categories are neutralized because of an undependable shot and suspect defense? Well, an interesting discussion took place in the comment's section of the recap of the Pelicans loss to the Thunder so it's high time we take a look at just how valuable his contributions have been to the New Orleans roster.

A quick scan of his advanced stats won't reveal the right answer. Although his assist/turnover ratio sparkles, a 14.8 PER, a .008 win share per 48 minutes and a 44% true shooting percentage scream mediocre at best. However, basketball is a team sport; thus, analysis needs to move beyond mere individual data.

According to NBA Stats, Ish is currently sporting the best net rating and +/- on the team, and it's not even all that close. Despite not shooting the ball well, he has the 3rd highest offensive rating on the Pelicans. His defensive rating is even better, trailing only Alexis Ajinca.

Let's dive a little deeper, though, because the proof is in the pudding, or in the case, the stats over at nbawowy.com.

Team PPP Team TS% Team 3P% Opponent PPP Opponent TS%
Ish Smith on the Floor 1.015 54.3% 37.0% 1.092 54.6%
Ish Smith off the Floor .850 49.3% 30.1% 1.154 61.0%

Wow. The Pelicans average over 15 more points per 100 possessions when Ish Smith is helping dictate the offense. Defensively, his presence plays a part in reducing the opponents output by more than 6 points.

When Ish is on the court, a number of Pelicans witness a spike in efficiency from all the parts of the floor. For instance, Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson and Luke Babbitt all shoot 36% or higher from three-point range. Conversely, none of them can manage anything better individually than 31.8% when the opening day signee sits.

With Smith running the offense, Anthony Davis is the monster that we've all come to know and love. He has a true shooting percentage of 61.6% and is nearly automatic from 16 feet and beyond (61.1% from 16+ feet and 71.4 three point percentage). No Ish and Davis becomes mortal: a 48.9 TS%, 46.7 FG% from 16+ feet and a 22.2 3PT%.

For a fun look, let's compare Ish Smith's output to Jrue Holiday.

Team PPP Team TS% Team 3P% Opponent PPP Opponent TS%
Jrue Holiday on the Floor .957 54.9% 35.8% 1.074 61.8%
Jrue Holiday off the Floor .942 51.1% 33.3% 1.141 55.1%

Players that Holiday has individually defended are shooting 48.3% on the year. Against Ish, 46.1%. It's also poignant that Smith averages 3.3 contests at the rim, the fourth best mark on the Pelicans. However, his diminutive size has not been a liability as illustrated by a 43.6 opponent's at the rim FG%. His tenacity and IQ were evident on this block of Kyle Lowry.

Holiday's limited minutes, both in practice and games, have likely had a large effect on his performance; however, that shouldn't take anything away from the unexpected production of an NBA journeyman. When the Pelicans started the season without Tyreke Evans and Norris Cole and Jrue Holiday on a strict schedule, Dell Demps had to go into scramble mode. There is a strong argument to be had he found gold amid the scrap heap.

Yes, Ish Smith has no shot, but that doesn't mean the Pelicans offensive continuity has been destroyed. Just as defenders who give space to Rajon Rondo, Smith makes opponents pay for giving him immense driving and passing lanes. His probes into the lane have opened up space on the perimeter for a number of Pelicans who don't like to dribble or do not possess the skill. The same has always went for Tyreke Evans, yet he hasn't nearly been as ridiculed for his lack of perimeter shooting.

Evans averaged 11.8 drives during his 34.0 minutes per game in 2014-15, and converted 6.4 of his shot attempts on those drives at a clip of 44.1%. Smith has Evans beat on both accounts while in less playing time. In 28.6 minutes, Ish is averaging 12.3 drives a contest, and he knocks down 47.6% of the 5.3 times he decides to shoot on his forays into the paint.

Perceived liabilities and a 1-11 start have masked the worth of Ish Smith and that's not fair. Let's change that notion by ending the dreaded behavior of singing the praises of another silly narrative and give him the credit he deserves. Smith probably belongs on most 15-man rosters, but his value increases within uptempo systems. I've seen it through 12 games, have you?