The 76ers hope Ish Smith will once again be a difference-maker, someone to get Nerlens Noel going again.
It’s no secret that the Sixers point guards have mostly struggled this season. As a result, so has the team’s 6-foot-11, 223-pound power forward/center.
But Noel was playing at rookie of the year level after the Sixers acquired Smith off waivers in February.
So there’s some optimism that Noel can once again elevate his game after the team reacquired Smith in exchange for two future second-round picks from the New Orleans Pelicans on Thursday.
Noel is averaging 9.8 points while shooting 45 percent from the field this season. For the most part, the former University of Kentucky star has looked uncomfortable at power forward, playing alongside rookie center Jahlil Okafor.
He also looked uncomfortable on the court last season before the Sixers claimed Smith off waivers.
Afterward, he went on to have one of the most dominating months for an NBA player.
In 17 games played in March, his scoring (243 points), rebounding (190) and defense (41 steals, 35 blocked shots) represented dramatic improvement after Smith arrived. Only he and Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon put up those numbers in a single month, dating back to the 1985-86 season
“I love Ish,” Noel said last season. “He’s honestly, (in) my whole life, the first true point guard I ever played with.
“He’s helped me. He’s never had a player like me to really throw it up to. So we complement each other.”
It didn’t take long for the two to build a relationship. Noel and Smith talked about what they planned to do in certain situations before every game. They then review what they saw and discuss how to convert more scoring opportunities.
“I never clicked with anybody that quick,” Smith said of Noel last season. “But it’s still a work in progress.”
Now, they will look to do it, again.