Dennis Smith Jr. came into last season as arguably the most anticipated Mavs rookie in franchise history. And he didn’t disappoint, but it didn’t take long for some glaring holes in his game to be exposed. He struggled shooting the ball consistently, especially off the bounce. He dribbled some possessions away, turned the ball over quite a bit, and looked confused on the defensive end of the floor. So in other words, he went through the growing pains ALL rookies go through. Improvement is the expectation and it will most certainly come for the talented young floor general.
Expected areas of growth
Any and everything applies here. Dennis is far from a perfect player or prospect, but obviously there are things he is better at than others. The jump shot, which is not broken by any means, is where improvement is expected and most vital to his success. His slash line of .395/.393/.694 isn’t pretty. But that doesn’t exactly tell the story of him as a shooter. For example, he shot a solid 37% on catch and shoot three point attempts, albeit on limited opportunities. This paired with the fact that he has good looking mechanics should inspire some hope that he can find some consistency. He’s also been steady improving those mechanics this summer, including putting in work with Steph Curry’s trainer Brandon Payne. Notice the more polished and compact mechanics here:
It’s often said that shooting numbers are a reflection of shot selection rather than the caliber of shooter. For example, it seems to be common knowledge that Steph Curry is the greatest shooter of all-time. But he doesn’t own the highest three point percentage in NBA history, that actually belongs to his head coach Steve Kerr. It’s because Steph takes a steady diet of contested, step back, 30 footers. Not to sit here and try to convince you Dennis is Steph Curry, but this same logic can be applied to Dennis and his shooting line.
He was often forced to take difficult, low percentage late clock attempts. And other times he took bad shots willingly, which is something that should be remedied with experience and better teammates (more on that later). His decision making and feel is something that theoretically should improve in all aspects of the game. He often gets too much flack for not being a “true” point guard, but that’s kind of an abstract archetype considering where the position is going. What is apparent about Dennis after watching him on tape for a full season, is that he has the ability to see the floor and make passes other cannot. Whether it be throwing feathery lobs to rollers, one hand off the dribble hook passes to the weak side corner, or fancy bounce passes in traffic, Dennis has exhibited passing chops he doesn’t get credit for. The art he has yet to master is finding the balance of being aggressive and looking to score, with getting his teammates heavily involved and in their sets. That “feel” and understanding is something that should see marketed improvement from a point guard in their second year.
How will his role be different?
Dennis Smith Jr. will be this teams starting point guard on opening night. That’s a fact. But the teams offseason doings undoubtedly changed his role and responsibilities significantly. That obviously started with the acquisition of Luka Doncic. Luka has the chops to be a primary ball handler and decision maker in the league, and so does Dennis. This is nothing but a GOOD thing for the team and both of their games.
So many fall into the outdated trap of thinking that you can only have one ball handler on the floor. In the current NBA, it is essential to have multiple playmakers out there. In the era of switching defenses, attempting to have one guy be the only source of creation for your team lends itself to predictability and stagnancy. But introducing another new, and particularly unique offensive weapon into the mix should only make this team more dynamic. Especially considering Coach Carlisle and his infamous “Flow” offense. This philosophy emphasizes a “read and react” type of mindset that is most beneficial with high I.Q. ball players who don’t have to be told where to be, those who have a “feel.”
Plugging Luka into that equation will almost certainly force Dennis to make an adjustment. He will be playing without the ball more than he ever has in his life. While I think he has the smarts to adapt, it is certainly going to take some time. How well these two can learn to function together will ultimately determine how the Mavericks will fair not only this season, but for years to come. A mutually beneficial relationship from the teams two playmakers and cornerstones will lead the franchise into a prosperous post Dirk Nowitzki era.
What to Expect?
Believe in Dennis Smith Jr. He is talented, explosive, and by all accounts has the correct approach. He’s spent the summer working on his game and body, and the franchise rewarded his hard work by putting pieces in place to help his development along. Luka Doncic gives Dennis an exciting young running mate to grow with and play off of. They also added Deandre Jordan, one of the leagues elite roll men and vertical spacers as well as a reliable defensive anchor. Harrison Barnes calming scoring presence is still in town as well.
Expect a more comfortable, confident, and efficient Dennis. Production should spike as well, but don’t expect an all star out of the gate. Patience should still be a priority. He is still young, inexperienced, and adjusting to a different role, but once he figures this thing out? It’s going to be special.
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