Connect with us

Battle of the Top 9: Dennis Smith Jr.’s rookie season compared to the 8 players drafted before him

Eight. That is how many players were taken before Dennis Smith Jr. in the 2017 NBA draft. Their names in draft order are: Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, Jayson Tatum, Josh Jackson, De’Aaron Fox, Jonathan Isaac, Lauri Markkanen, and Frank Ntilikina. All of these players just completed their first NBA regular season. Two of them were fortunate enough to make it to the playoffs. The rest were given an early summer to rest, reflect, and get back in the gym to begin year number two.

While these lottery picks are resting or participating in playoffs, we at Dallas Sports Fanatic are analyzing and comparing. Below I breakdown the numbers of the eight draft picks chosen before DSJ and compare them to the Dallas Mavericks point guard.

The table below has the per game numbers of the first nine rookies taken in the draft along with a few other stats such as double-doubles, triple-doubles, Player Efficiency Rating (PER), and usage rate. I have also ranked them against each other to show you how they stack up against themselves. All numbers are sourced from


Numbers that Stand Out

Josh Jackson’s insane usage rate: Jackson only started 35 games for the lowly Phoenix Suns and managed to register a usage rate of 26%! He ranks second in this group in usage rate behind point guard Dennis Smith Jr..  Jackson is a small forward on a team that has All-Star Devin Booker. Booker’s usage rate was 31.7% for the 2017-2018 season. Perhaps Jackson’s high usage rate has something to do with why Phoenix only won 19 games this year.

Lonzo Ball’s free throw shooting percentage: Wow. 45%? That is terrible. And I thought DSJ struggled at the line. Ball finished behind Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan in free throw percentage. I wonder if Hack-a-Ball will ever become a thing.

Markelle Fultz triple double: Fultz got himself a triple double in the last game of the season. He came off the bench and only played 25 minutes. He recorded 13 points, 10 assists, and 10 rebounds. Even more remarkable is that he became the youngest rookie in NBA history to register the trip-dub at 19 years and 317 days old. Lonzo Ball previously set the mark earlier this year. Ball, Fultz, DSJ, and Ben Simmons were the only rookies to register a triple-double this season.

Lauri Markkanen shooting numbers: In his rookie season he was incredibly close to averaging the elusive 50/40/90 shooting split. He wound up finishing with 40/30/80. Still impressive for a rookie.

The Comparisons

Markelle Fultz vs DSJ

It is hard to compare DSJ’s season with someone who only played 14 games due to a mysterious (and poorly handled) shoulder injury. But it is what we are here for. So, out of the 19 categories I used for this comparison, DSJ wins in 17. Despite only playing 14 games and averaging 18 minutes in those games Fultz managed to register only 5 fewer double doubles and the same amount of triple doubles as DSJ. However, if we are looking at the total picture and return on investment, Dennis Smith Jr. clearly wins here. He played in more games, averaged more points, had a better PER, and actually made a three pointer during the season.

Winner: Dennis Smith Jr.

Lonzo Ball vs DSJ

All eyes were on the LA Lakers at the start of the season. You can determine if it was because of Lonzo Ball or his outspoken father LaVar Ball. As the season went on the Laker hype died down and so did the microscope on Lonzo. Due to injuries to his knee the Lakers point guard of the future only played in 52 games. But that didn’t stop him from getting two triple doubles and thirteen double doubles. Out of the top nine rookies Lonzo ranked first in triple doubles, steals, assists, and minutes played on a per game basis. DSJ managed to beat him in games played, points per game, field goal and free throw percentage. I find the difference in usage rate to be interesting, but largely attribute it to DSJ taking more shots than Lonzo does. Lonzo took better care of the ball and registered more assists, beating DSJ in two major point guard categories. But, the best ability is availability, and DSJ beat Lonzo in that regard despite dealing with his own knee problems during the season.

Winner: Tie

Jayson Tatum vs DSJ 

Jayson Tatum got drafted into an awesome situation with what seemed like a lot of opportunity. Then Gordon Hayward signed with the Celtics. Then Kyire Irving was traded to the Celtics. All of a sudden his chances for opportunities seemed like they were greatly diminished, except they weren’t. Hayward broke his ankle in the most gruesome way possible and all of a sudden Tatum was thrust into a role much bigger than he could have hoped for. Add in Irving’s knee issues and Marcus Smart’s nagging injuries and you can see why he played 80 games and averaged 30.5 minutes a night. Out of the top nine players in the 2017 draft Tatum is first in games played, games started, field goal percentage, three point percentage, and effective field goal percentage. He is tied with Lauri Markkanen as the leader in 5 of the 19 categories I have used in this analysis.

DSJ beats him in points, assists, usage, double and triple doubles. But it is easy to see who the winner of this match-up is. Jayson Tatum was way more efficient than DSJ, played more games, and helped his team to the second best record in the Eastern Conference. Chalk it up to playing with one of the best guards in the NBA or DSJ having to play point guard on a bad team. Either way, Tatum had a better rookie year and is still enjoying it while the Celtics take on the Bucks in the first round of the playoffs.

Winner: Jayson Tatum

Josh Jackson vs DSJ 

What stands out to me about Josh Jackson is that insane usage percentage that I mentioned earlier. Honestly I didn’t watch too much Suns basketball this year so I am unsure why he has that many plays or field goal attempts on a team that features Devin Booker. I guess its because somebody else has to shoot too. Jackson stacks up against DSJ nicely but his rebound and block numbers aren’t that good compared to DSJ, considering Jackson is 5 inches taller.  He also has less double doubles than DSJ and is less efficient than him based on PER. His assist to turnover ratio is actually negative, which shows he has trouble taking care of the ball and creating for his teammates. Jackson cracks the top 3 in five categories: games played, steals, field goal percentage, effective field goal percentage, and usage. Compared to DSJ being in the top 3 in ten categories: games started, minutes played, points, assists, steals, three pointers made, usage, PER, double-double, and triple doubles. DSJ had more responsibility than Jackson as the point guard and was on a team that won more games, even though it wasn’t by much.

Winner: Dennis Smith Jr. 

De’Aaron Fox vs DSJ 

Mavs fans, be happy that our franchise has not had to deal with the type of ownership the Kings have had over the past decade. All of their lottery picks or “franchise changing players” either don’t make it or get traded somewhere else. I think the Kings really got a great player with Fox and I would be lying to you if I said I preferred DSJ over Fox going into the draft. Fox put together a nice season after a rough first couple of months that had George Hill in front of him on the depth chart (another example of great Kings leadership). He only cracks the top 3 of this group in three categories: assists, usage, and steals. However, I can’t help but wonder how his season would have turned out if he had the same opportunity that DSJ had throughout the whole season. There are three stats that stand out to me and help me make my decision with these two. Rebounds, assists, and turnovers. DSJ averaged one more rebound and almost one more assist with pretty much the same amount of turnovers. The decision making and hustle of DSJ puts him over Fox in this one, but it is neck and neck going into next year.

Winner: Dennis Smith Jr. (Barely)

Jonathan Isaac vs DSJ 

Jonathan Isaac got drafted into a pretty tough situation and was hurt throughout most of the year. Even if he didn’t get hurt he would have had to compete with Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon, Bismack Biyombo, and Marreese Speights for minutes. He is actually listed as the third PF on the Magic’s depth chart. As such, his numbers were poor. Out of all of the top 9 in last years draft, Isaac had the worst rookie season. DSJ even beat him in rebounds per game (DSJ plays point guard and Isaac is a power forward). If that doesn’t sum up this comparison I don’t know what does. The only positive for Isaac I can throw in here is that he shot 35% from three, even though he made less than 1 three pointer per game. He showed nice touch from the perimeter in college so maybe if the Magic can make space for him on their roster he could have a nice sophomore season.

Winner: Dennis Smith Jr.

Lauri Markkanen vs DSJ 

This guy can shoot the damn ball. Markkanen finished just shy of the 50/40/90 club with 43/36/84 percent shooting splits as a rookie. That is impressive. To put it into context Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Durant are some of the names that have joined the elusive 50/40/90 club. He also made 145 three pointers and was the fastest in NBA history to reach 100 made three pointers. On top of that, Markkanen was incredibly efficient with an effective field goal percentage of 52%. The Bulls power forward ranks top 3 in 12 of the 19 categories I have used for comparison. He ranks 1st or tied for 1st in points, rebounds, three pointers made, free throw percentage, PER, and double doubles. Compare that to DSJ who ranks in the top 3 in 10 of the 19 categories. DSJ only ranks 1st (tied with Markkanen) in points per game and usage rate. The Mavericks point guard had a great season but Markkanen put on a shooting clinic compared to the rest of the top 9 draft picks. Add in his 14 double doubles that came from points and rebounds and you start to see what type of workhorse this guy can be. He would have been a great replacement for Dirk if he had fallen to the Mavs. Side note: Imagine if the Mavs could swing their first round pick this year and maybe a 1st round pick later on for Markkanen. What an unstopable force him and DSJ could be in the pick and roll/pop.

Winner: Lauri Markkanen

Frank Ntilikina vs DSJ 

These two will always be compared to each other because they were taken back to back. But LeBron James added more fuel to that fire when he said that the Knicks should have taken DSJ over Ntilikina. Perhaps it was a dig at Phil Jackson. Perhaps he was telling the truth. Either way I feel bad for Ntilikina. He was a project when he got drafted and the New York media and fan base is pretty brutal when it comes to criticism. DSJ having a great rookie year probably didn’t help. What I find interesting about his numbers compared to DSJ is that his defensive ability was hyped up heading into the draft. Yet, DSJ finished with better numbers in terms of blocks, steals, and rebounds. Sure, they were close but DSJ still edged him out and defense isn’t exactly the Mavericks point guard’s calling card. Maybe if Frank got a few more minutes he could have at least matched what DSJ did on that end of the floor. On the offensive end it isn’t even close. DSJ is light years ahead of Frank and it shows in the stat sheet and in the film room.

Winner: Dennis Smith Jr.  

Staff writer covering the Dallas Mavericks | I was in Miami when the Mavs won in 2011 and I was in the building to see Dirk's 30K point. I follow the Mavs and NBA religiously, with the Cowboys and Rangers sprinkled in. Outside of sports I like The Office, cooking, and good beer.

Click to comment

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Recent Posts