It’s easy to anoint someone a franchise savior before the regular season starts. Sometimes that pans out but most of the time it doesn’t.
Dallas Mavericks’ fans have been cautiously optimistic with 19 year-old phenom Dennis Smith Jr. since he was drafted ninth overall back in June, Dallas’ first top-10 draft pick in 20 years. Every bit of evidence prior to him being selected pointed to a potential star in the making at perhaps the Mavericks’ most desperate position of need at the point guard. It also comes at a critical juncture in the franchise’s storied history.
Given that Dirk Nowitzki’s career is winding down, people around here are looking for the new torch-bearer. Harrison Barnes is going to be instrumental in a lot of ways in leading Dallas’ franchise forward, but the Mavericks have longed for star power for years. Through consistent impressive summer league performances, confidence had begun to swell that Smith Jr. could fit the bill.
As he’s faced improved competition in the preseason, there has been no reason to second-guess anything. Monday marked Smith Jr.’s best performance yet (16 points, seven assists and six boards) that’s capped a steady and noticeable improvement as the regular season nears. Head coach Rick Carlisle, not always the easiest on point guards, young or old, has been effusive in his praise of “Junior.”
“Some of the passes he’s making are amazing,” Carlisle said. “It’s virtually impossible to stay in front of him. I don’t think anyone has taken a single charge against him the whole preseason.”
Somewhere in the depths of the American Airlines Center sits a steadfastly confident Mark Cuban who saw this from the beginning after Smith Jr.’s sports psychological review came back “better than anyone we’ve ever tested.”
While he’s still learning the correct reads out of the pick and roll and has still shown some hesitancy as the main floor director, Smith Jr. has methodically erased any potential red flags the Mavericks may have been concerned about before he arrived in Dallas.
His 3-point shooting has been good. His defense has been better than expected, so much so that Carlisle even mentioned it was “ahead of his offense”. Given Smith Jr.’s average wingspan, it stands to reason he’s putting in extra effort on that end of the floor to be a difference maker there as well.
He said in his introductory press conference that he “wanted to learn more about playing defense” after playing his freshman year at N.C. State where it wasn’t a priority to learn the ins and outs of it.
“Everybody’s been on me about it,” he said, laughing. “They’re on me every day. Eventually, you don’t want to get called out in film for it, so you have to tighten it up. Coach [Larry] Shyatt has been really persistent with me about it in terms of knowing where to be at and Coach [Jamahl] Mosley has too.
“I’ve been making strides every game and I’m looking forward to keeping doing that all season.”
Any concerns about Smith Jr.’s demeanor or attitude have long since been put to rest. Carlisle and Cuban have both been very vocal about the humility and poise the 19 year-old has shown and he’s responded to the first few months of being a Dallas Maverick as professionally as anyone could ask for.
So yes, Dallas. It’s OK to freak out about Dennis Smith Jr.
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