Ish Smith stopped at his locker for a few minutes, sweat dripping off his body.
“Gotta put in the work,” he was saying recently. “Putting in the work pays off.”
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Smith was claimed off waivers by the 76ers on Feb. 21, not long after being cut by the New Orleans Pelicans.
The energetic point guard -- who’s playing for his eighth team since entering the NBA in 2010 – has been a pleasant surprise. In fact, he may be a keeper for years to come.
“I hope so,” Smith said, smiling. “I love this game. I love competing in the NBA. The Sixers gave me another shot. You’d never know we haven’t won too many games. Everyone has a great attitude here and it’s cool to be here and learning from coach (Brett) Brown and the whole staff. They’ve made me feel welcome from the first moment.”
Joining a team in the middle of the season is far from an easy task. Especially for a point guard.
If you’re counting, Smith is the eighth different point guard to play for the Sixers this season.
In 26 games with the Sixers, including 12 starts, Smith is averaging 12.8 points and 6.0 assists per game.
There have been plenty of terrific moments. There have also been some struggles. But that’s to be expected.
“Coach Brown is always teaching and I appreciate that so much,” Smith said. “He gives you incredible freedom on the court. If you make mistakes, he’ll show you. That’s what I want. I want to get better. I feel like I’ve improved so much in my time here. Every game is a learning experience. The guys on this team are all close. Even when things aren’t going well, we’re working and learning together.”
The 26-year-old Smith doesn’t want the season to end.
He plans to capitalize on this opportunity as much as possible in the final four regular season games.
“Every day is a gift in this league,” Smith said. “I really, really like being here. I’m going to keep working. There’s always room to get better. You can’t get stagnant. You have to keep moving forward. For me, I’m in a great position here. You never know. I know this: I’ll keep working as hard as possible every day to improve. That’s what kept me in the league. I want to be here in this league as long as possible.”