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Ish Smith is making the 76ers look like an actual NBA team

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The journeyman point guard has brought some much-needed dynamism and competence to the woeful 76ers since being reacquired in a trade.

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

"The Process" is being replaced by the Ish Smith Revolution. The same Ish Smith who has been on nine different NBA teams in five-plus seasons is riding in on a white horse to save the Philadelphia 76ers from the worst season of all time.

The Sixers were a historically bad 1-30 before deciding to use two of Sam Hinkie's precious second-round picks to reacquire Smith, an old friend who wasn't re-signed after showing promise with the team last year. The Sixers are 3-3 since making that move with the Pelicans and it's been the diminutive Smith who has helped lead the turnaround.

Make no mistake, Philadelphia is still one of the worst teams in the league. The three wins have come against the self-destructing Phoenix Suns, the weird Sacramento Kings and a young Minnesota Timberwolves team that's falling apart. The three losses were against a short-handed Utah Jazz squad and the two Los Angeles teams, including a defeat to the Clippers by 31 points.

Still, we're talking about a team that had won one game in 31 tries. Finally pulling out some victories, no matter how bad the opponent, has been a refreshing change from the consistent run of blowouts and late-game collapses that marred the beginning of the season.

Smith has been the dynamic offensive catalyst the Sixers have been seeking after rotating through a slew of point guards, including Isaiah CanaanT.J. McConnell, Kendall Marshall and the recently-waived Tony Wroten and Phil Pressey. McConnell had been the most effective out of that latter group, but he has obvious limitations that made him a liability late in games.

Smith obviously has his flaws, as he's an undersized journeyman player who can't be relied upon for consistent scoring efficiency. He's only shooting 37 percent overall and 29 percent from three with Philadelphia, thanks mostly to 5-of-28 shooting over the two games in Los Angeles.

But the Sixers can live with those poor outings when he's also providing performances like the one he had Monday night against Minnesota. Smith notched 21 points and 11 assists while shooting 9-of-16 from the field, vastly outplaying Ricky Rubio in the process. He made big plays down the stretch to help salt away a 109-99 triumph, using his speed, passing and shot creation abilities to do the job.

With the Sixers up nine with three-and-a-half minutes left, Smith pushed the ball in transition instead of just bleeding clock and letting the Wolves get into a set defense. His probing led to a nice dish to veteran Carl Landry for a dunk as Karl-Anthony Towns didn't hustle back quickly enough:

Later, Smith knocked down a tough pull-up J:

This wasn't the greatest of shots, but it's one Smith can create and make with some regularity. Having a lead ball handler who can do that is a plus late in games when defenses clamp down in the half court.

The presence of Smith has had a trickle-down effect on the rest of the roster. McConnell has done a good job running the second unit, where his limitations aren't as exposed. Philadelphia has posted an offensive rating of over 102 points per 100 possessions with McConnell on the floor since Smith came on board, per That's far from outstanding, but it's a vast improvement over the norm.

But most notably, Nerlens Noel has turned his season around after a rough start. That shouldn't be a huge surprise. Noel built a rapport with Smith last season, even calling him the "first true point guard" he's ever played with. The big man shot over 53 percent from the field last season when he shared the court with Smith, per With Smith on the bench, Noel shot just over 40 percent during that same span and about 45 percent before the point guard came to Philadelphia.

Noel has often looked lost this season, in part due to nagging injuries, but also in part to not having Smith. Noel shot 45 percent before Smith was brought back. Since the trade, the 21-year-old has shot a whopping 72 percent from the field, with 17 of his 39 baskets assisted by Smith, per He's had 11 other assisted buckets total over the six games.

Smith is a natural pick-and-roll partner for Noel thanks to his quickness and ability to get into the paint. Noel has feasted on alley-oops out of these sets, including this one late in a tough loss against Utah:

Noel has 13 alley-oops and 24 total dunks since Smith came back, with most of them being assisted. Smith's ability to get Noel easy buckets is a boon for the offense and a nice confidence builder as the young big man looks to develop the rest of his game.

With the additions of Smith and veteran Elton Brand, new Sixers chief Jerry Colangelo and associate head coach Mike D'Antoni have already put their imprint on the roster. We'll see if this newfound level of competence hurts the team's precious draft position, but Philadelphia is still the favorite to finish with the NBA's worst record. At worst, they'll be the second or third-worst team in the league.

For now, it's progress to see the Sixers operate like a normal bad team instead of an all-time horrible one. Perhaps some tangible improvement can help them in free agency when they look to take a major step forward next offseason.

Who would've thought it would be Ish Smith to spearhead that movement?

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