It’s never easy for young players to crack the rotation on very good NBA teams, especially at the center position, one typically logjammed with multiple above-average players. Greg Smith spent most of 2014-15 on the depth chart beneath two very good centers — Tyson Chandler and either Brandan Wright or Amar’e Stoudemire — and therefore never found steady playing time.
However, by all accounts he was a good teammate. He was enthusiastic on the bench and appeared very honed-in during the first-round series against the Houston Rockets, his former team. That general energy is a good reflection of his character. It’s easy to pout when you don’t get minutes, and Smith never publicly complained or even looked upset. In fact, he did just the opposite. That will serve him well moving forward.
Smith’s strongest stretch of the season came between the Rajon Rondo trade which sent Wright to Boston, leaving Smith as the lone backup center on the team. The Mavs would eventually add Stoudemire and Bernard James to shore up the position, but for that few-week stretch, Smith was the man. From Dec. 20 to Jan. 14, Smith scored 3.0 points and added 3.2 rebounds in 14.3 minutes per game, respectable numbers for a young backup big man.
The other promising element of his season performance was his ability to score at the rim. Nearly all of his shots came at point-blank range as the roll man in the pick-and-roll, and he finished at an above-average rate, which you always want to see from your big man.
Smith’s most important performance of the season arguably came in a Dec. 28 win against the Oklahoma City Thunder, when he scored a modest four points but added eight rebounds and two blocks en route to a 112-107 victory. He played more than 25 minutes in that game, adding two all-important offensive rebounds. He was also +5 in a five-point game.
The center is an unrestricted free agent this summer, as his two-year deal expired at the end of the 2014-15 campaign. He’d previously signed with the Chicago Bulls toward the end of last season before Dallas traded for him last summer.
Smith has already played steady minutes elsewhere in the NBA, seeing action in 70 games for the Houston Rockets during the 2012-13 season, including 10 starts. There, he put up 6.0 boards and 4.6 rebounds for a playoff team, demonstrating that he has the ability to play regular minutes.
However, after being unable to crack the rotation this season, I’m curious to see what that means for him moving forward. The physicality and talent is there, for sure, but the one thing young big men need is playing time, whether it’s in the D-League (like Dwight Powell) or at the NBA level.
Will Smith find that with the Mavs, or will he look elsewhere? As a free agent, he has the ability to sign wherever there’s an offer. Young big men are always a commodity, so an offer will be there for Smith. It’s up to him to choose where he wants to play.
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