DALLAS – As the youngest player on the Dallas Mavericks’ summer league roster besides rookie Luka Doncic, point guard Dennis Smith Jr. was busy Monday exhibiting his leadership skills.
It was the Mavs’ first day of summer league practice, and Smith wanted to make sure everyone was on the same page. He wanted to make sure every player was in eat, drink and sleep basketball mode.
More importantly, Smith wanted to share some wisdom with the campers that’ll likely help them save a dollar or two.
“Cut your phone off in meetings,” Smith said. “They’ll fine you. Don’t get text. They’ll fine you.
“It’s really a lot of off the court things that I’ve learned that I can pass along to those guys. I’m trying to help them out. I want them to save.”
As he passed along some sage advice, Smith said he was speaking from experience. Experience that forced his bank account to be hit a time or two because of his transgressions during his rookie year this past season.
But as Smith, 20, enters his second season, he does so with the knowledge of wanting to grow exponentially on a daily basis. And he doesn’t just want to have a lengthy NBA career – he wants to be one of the best to ever play the game.
That’s why Smith is sometimes in the gym at 3 a.m. He’s polishing his craft, refining his game, fine-tuning the little things that could ultimately make the difference between winning and losing.
Asked what he wants to get out of this four-day camp, Smith simply smiled and said: “Just growing my leadership skills, implementing some of the things I’ve been working on this summer, put it into a game. And really the biggest thing is just leading the guys.”
So what exactly are those next-level intangibles Smith has been working on?
He said: “You got to wait and see.”
What Mavs fans really are anxious to see is how Smith and Doncic will work together in the same backcourt. Doncic was the third pick in last month’s NBA Draft and missed Monday’s camp opener because he had to take a physical and take care of other pertinent things.
However, Smith and Doncic were on the same court – after Doncic flew to Dallas from Europe– – on Sunday night.
“He came in and got some jumpers up,” Smith said. “I hit him up. I told him to text me whenever he touched down.
“He got in kind of late last night. Long flight. He was here for like an hour. I was here for probably like three hours. He was just getting up set shots.”
Since Smith knows he and Doncic are two of the cornerstones of the Mavs’ future, he wanted to get to know the 6-8 guard right away. So he showed up at Doncic’ press conference on June 22 – the day after the NBA Draft.
“It was just showing love,” Smith said. “I’m excited we got a high pick, another young guy, and really talented as well.
“I was just showing my support.”
Assistant coach Jamahl Mosley, who will be the Mavs’ summer league head coach, has been impressed with the way Smith has openly asking questions and gladly taking on a much more prominent leadership role.
“What we’ve talked about with Dennis is his growth as a leader, as a guy who’s got one year under his belt with summer league and within the league,” Mosley said. “So he needs to understand that it’s going to be how to make his teammates better, the ability to push the ball, the ability to get guys in the right position and the right spacing.
“But his leadership is a big thing that we’re looking forward to him doing, and I think he did a great job of that just starting today.”
The Mavs will practice for four days in Dallas before flying to Las Vegas on Thursday to participate in the MGM Resorts NBA Summer League 2018. The Mavs’ first game is Friday at 8:30 p.m. CT against the Phoenix Suns in a contest that will be televised on ESPN.
But how many games Smith plays in Vegas hasn’t been decided. And whether Doncic plays at all also hasn’t been decided.
“You had a guy who averaged a lot of minutes this year during the regular season,” Mosley said, referring to Smith. “I think we’re going to take it game-by-game and then kind of just understand how he sees and how he feels and what we need to have him do.
“But as his growth keeps growing, I think we can kind of gauge it that way.”
As far as Doncic playing in Vegas, Mosley said the jury is still out.
“That is to be determined,” Mosley said. “For Doncic, he played so many games already (in Europe for the last 10 months) and we’ve seen what he’s done. I think the great thing for him is that he’s very experienced in a lot of ways when it comes to games being played.
“I think there’s excitement that he’s part of this organization, that he’s going to grow and he’s going to build whether he’s on the court now in summer league, but he’s going to learn through film, through working out with our guys, through the weight room. There’s going to be so many pieces that he’s going to learn and I think that having him on the court when it’s necessary will be key, whenever that happens.”
Smith views Doncic as “a high IQ guy” ready to help turn the Mavs’ fortunes around. And he’s looking forward to running the offense, or playing off the ball and letting Doncic run the offense.
“I made strides towards the end of the year playing off the ball,” said Smith, who averaged 15.2 points and 5.2 assists last season. “I got better playing with it as well.
“I believe we’re both guys that can play with it or without it.”
For Smith, the difference between this summer league training camp and the one he participated in last year as a rookie is two-fold.
“I’m just more experienced,’’ he said. “I learned the ropes a little bit. I ain’t going to say I know them, but I learned a lot last year.
“I paid attention to detail. It’s a little area where I can give pointers to the guys that’s coming in now.”
Spoken like a true leader.