Handed play-calling duties in his 3rd preseason game, Dennis Smith Jr. accepts heavy responsibility

DALLAS — Although he admits that the Dallas Mavericks’ offense sputtered during Thursday’s 112-89 loss in Orlando, assistant coach Melvin Hunt believes rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. took another step forward in his progression while playing without the team’s veterans.

Traveling to Orlando without head coach Rick Carlisle (illness), 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki (rest), leading scorer Harrison Barnes (rest), backup guard J.J. Barea (rest), veteran Devin Harris (rest), starting swingman Wesley Matthews (rest), big man Josh McRoberts (rest), second-year standout Dorian Finney-Smith (left knee soreness) and center Nerlens Noel (rest), the Mavericks (2-1) found themselves severely shorthanded on the second night of a back-to-back. The outcome was the team’s first loss in exhibition play, failing to keep pace with the young and athletic Magic (1-1) on the road. However, there were positive signs of growth, according to Hunt, as Smith took charge of the play-calling duties. And despite seeing the team fall without its veteran leaders, Hunt says he left the court encouraged for the future.

“Dennis Smith can learn,” Hunt concluded after Thursday’s defeat. “We had nine assists (Thursday night). Ouch. You know, we’ve got to have more than nine assists. I mean, we scored 89 points. It wasn’t a lot of points, but with nine assists, we’ve got film to show these guys.

“You know, with (Smith’s) speed, he’s got a wonderful weapon. And he’s learning how to use it at this level,” the coach added. “We’ve got to help him manage it, and that’s a great thing. The best part of the day was I sat down and watched film with him from (Wednesday’s) game. That probably was the most rewarding part of the day, ’cause I know he got a little bit better from watching that film. Each night I think he’s got to acquire something else, and I love the fact that he’s doing it. You know, the first game it was pace and getting the ball up the court faster. He got a little bit better at that the last game. And then (Thursday night), it was a little bit better. When we had play calls, he called most of the game. I let him call most of the game himself. I helped him, obviously, but I wanted him to get the feeling of that responsibility. And he did some great things. It was subtle. You guys wouldn’t see it, but he did some subtle things that were big time. He saw a guy that hadn’t gotten a touch and hadn’t gotten a feel, and with every point guard you’re a psychologist. You do everything as a point guard, and he got that guy a touch and got that guy a feel. A guy ran the floor, and he took a gamble to throw a ball to a guy. That kind of stuff is growth for us, and it’s fun watching him develop.”

Scoring 13 points on 4-of-13 shooting in 19 minutes of work to finish as the Mavericks’ high-point man, the 19-year-old Smith added three rebounds and an assist in the loss. Meanwhile, the Magic also outshot the Mavericks for the game, 47.7 percent to 33 percent, nullifying Dallas’ 55-49 rebounding edge by forcing 17 turnovers. And after seeing his team outscored by 12 when he was on the floor, Smith took full responsibility for the offensive miscues.

“We didn’t do good, obviously. The score shows that,” Smith admitted after the loss. “We’ve got to come out and execute better. I believe that everybody competed hard. Everybody played as hard as they could, but there were a couple times we didn’t execute, and that’s on me.

“It was new and it was good for me. It’s something that I needed to do,” he added while addressing his play-calling duties. “From knowing the plays and knowing where to get guys at, it was good for me to call my own. It shows [Hunt] that I know it, so I think it’s necessary. … I’m very comfortable, ’cause at the end of the day it’s just playing basketball and making the right reads. I’ve been doing that for a long time. So, if I just come out and keep learning the game, I’ll keep getting better.”

Note: The Mavericks will now return to American Airlines Center on Monday night against the Orlando Magic. The game will tip off at 7:30 p.m. CT, airing locally on Fox Sports Southwest and 103.3 FM ESPN. The game will also air in Spanish on KFLC AM 1270. Tickets are still available and can be purchased by visiting Mavs.com, or by calling (214) 747-MAVS.

Injury updates:

Dorian Finney-Smith (left knee soreness) — day-to-day