Dennis Smith Jr. didn’t bother watching the NBA Draft Lottery last year, but he sure will this year

DALLAS — Although he was slated to be one of the first 10 players selected in last year’s NBA Draft, Dennis Smith Jr. didn’t bother watching the NBA Draft Lottery.

The precursor to the actual NBA Draft was never on his mind.

“I didn’t know the lottery was actually a show,” Smith said Monday afternoon. “I was preparing (for the draft). That’s all I was worried about.”

The Draft Lottery will be held May 15 in Chicago, and the Dallas Mavericks will finish no worse than sixth in the lottery. With this being one of the deepest drafts in recent memory, Smith already knows the Mavs will walk away from the June 21 draft is pretty good shape.

A point guard who just finished his rookie season with the Mavs, Smith all but guaranteed the Mavs will come out of this draft with a player that will make an indelible impression on next season’s squad.

“I don’t think we can miss — Top 6,” Smith said. “I don’t think we can miss this year. Regardless of what it is, there’s so much talent in this draft.

“I think regardless of where we pick, we have a really good staff, so I’m sure we’re going to pick somebody that’s very valuable to our team this year. I know we’re going to make a good decision.”

Last year the Mavs wound up with the No. 9 overall pick in the draft and wound up selecting Smith. The multi-talent playmaker averaged 15.2 points and 5.2 assists in 29.7 minutes this season and started all 69 games that he played in.

Forward Harrison Barnes offered some sage advice that he believes will help Smith take his game to the next level.

“The season is long, especially coming from college,” Barnes said. “In the summer just make sure you’re staying healthy, and you’re working on the things you need to work on to prepare yourself for another hopefully 82 (games) and some (playoff games) next season.

“So I think that’s the biggest thing for him is just work on his body, stay in the gym — things that I’m confident he’s going to do — and that shouldn’t be a problem.”

Center/forward Dwight Powell also noted that spending an exorbitant amount of time in the gym working on one’s game is the be-all, end-all to becoming a very successful player. And he knows that mode of operation is right up Smith’s alley.

“Seeing him in there an hour before practice doing defensive slides is something that as a rookie is impressive,” Powell said. “And something that you kind of tip your hat to because that’s something that he feels he needs to work on and coaches kind of made it clear to him that that’s something you want to work on.

“And he just did it. He didn’t ask questions.”

After spending valuable time with his family back in Fayetteville, N.C., Smith was back on the practice court Monday. And he had some very specific things he wanted to work on.

“The shots I was getting in the offense I’ve been working on that,” Smith said. “Working on different kinds of finishes, getting stronger and just preparing for next year.”

Smith also said he’s been working on getting better defensively, and on being a better leader who leads both vocally and with his actions.

“I think more-so the underappreciated part of (being a leader) is being a good guy off the court,” Smith said. “Somebody that people in the organization can trust and somebody who’s trying to do the right thing.”

On paper, being the role of a leader comes with added pressure. Especially for someone like Smith who is just 20 years old. Or, does it?

“No, I don’t have it all figured out,” Smith said. “But it ain’t no pressure on me, though.”

As he settles into his offseason routine, Smith has been busy watching the NBA playoffs. And taking notes.

“It looks like a place you want to be next year, and that’s the goal,” Smith said. “We want be a part of that next year, and we plan on it.”

There’s one particular aspect of the NBA playoffs that has gotten Smith’s undivided attention. Something he can file away for when the Mavs return to the playoffs, possibly as early as next season.

“The (playoff) games have slowed down,” Smith said. “Some scores aren’t going to be as high, even though the (Golden State) Warriors are just kind of different.

“But for the most part the games have slowed down. There’s all kind of schemes, it’s really intense, the crowd is crazy, so I’m just enjoying it as a fan.”

Smith is also enjoying the impact fellow rookies Donovan Mitchell (Utah), Ben Simmons (Philadelphia), Jayson Tatum (Boston) and OG Anunoby (Toronto) are having in this year’s playoffs.

“They’ve been doing a good job holding their own,” Smith said. “So you’ve got to salute that.”

Two days after saluting and watching his friend and fellow Fayetteville, N.C., native J. Cole – a hip-hop recording artist – perform in concert at Fair Park this past Saturday – Smith has been anxiously trying to fine-tune his own game. As he rehashed the ups and downs of his rookie season, Smith was quick to point out where he made steady progress, which will undoubtedly fundamentally help him by leaps and bounds down the road.

“I made progress at moving on to the next play and not really dwelling on something negative or positive,” Smith said. “I just let it be in the past and continue to play.

“You want to do everything right, everything to help your team win, and it’s easy to get lost in doing something wrong and just dwelling on that. It took me a couple of games – probably a couple of months, actually – but I began to pick it up towards the end.”

Making those baby steps along with the ability to quickly turn a negative into a positive are the ingredients Powell acknowledged that has made Smith a special player Mavs fans will enjoy for many years to come.

“I think he definitely has the potential to be a great player,” Powell said. “You can see in his eyes when he plays he’s got that fire.

“So I think that the most important thing to be a great player is, one, being a competitor, and two, being someone who’s willing to work, and I think he has both of those elements. So that’s the most exciting thing is he truly loves winning and he truly hates losing, and he’s willing to put in the time on and off the court to accomplish those goals, so yes the sky’s the limit for him.”

Now, about that Draft Lottery.

“I didn’t even know that was actually a thing,” Smith said while laughing. “Last year (the Draft Lottery) really didn’t mean anything to me, but I’m going to watch it this year.”