The Film Room: Dennis Smith Jr.
Bobby Karalla breaks down Mavs rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr.'s game, and how he can use his athleticism to take the Mavericks' offense to the next level.
DALLAS — There was a revolving door at point guard for the Dallas Mavericks during the 2016-17 season, leading the front office to nab North Carolina State freshman standout Dennis Smith Jr. with the No. 9 pick in last month’s NBA Draft. Still, despite high hopes for Smith during his rookie season, the Mavericks don’t expect the cat-quick guard to be awarded the starting spot without a challenge from second-year lead guard Yogi Ferrell.
Last season, Ferrell averaged 11.3 points, 2.8 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.1 steals in 36 games with the Mavericks, making 29 starts after originally being signed to a 10-day contract on Jan. 28. He also shot 41.2 percent from the field and 40.3 percent from behind the three-point arc, garnering a spot on the NBA’s All-Rookie Second Team to become the first Mav to do so since Marquis Daniels and Josh Howard during the ’03-04 campaign. Ferrell was also named Western Conference Rookie of the Month during February, becoming the first Mav to receive the honor since Devin Harris in 2004. And according to Mavs owner Mark Cuban, Ferrell will certainly challenge Smith for the starting point-guard duties when training camp gets underway in late September.
“I think Yogi and Dennis are going to push each other,” Cuban said during Smith’s introductory press conference with the Dallas media last month. “You know, Yogi is super competitive. He started a lot of games as a D-League call-up and basically a 10-day, and I know that he’s just as competitive as Dennis is. They’re going to push each other. And I think that young core is what we want to continue to build on and grow with, and hopefully surprise a lot of people.”
Smith is ready for a healthy competition, according to Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson, after a stellar season at the collegiate level.
The 6-foot-3, 195-pound Smith averaged 18.1 points, 4.6 rebounds and 6.2 assists last season, shooting 45.5 percent from the field and 35.9 percent from behind the three-point arc. He also earned Atlantic Coast Conference Freshman of the Year and a spot on the All-ACC Second Team after becoming the first player in ACC history to record two triple-doubles in the same season during conference play. Likewise, Smith became the first player to lead the ACC among freshmen in points and assists since Ed Cota during the ’96-97 season. Now, Nelson says Smith is ready to thrive in Mavs coach Rick Carlisle’s system as he tries to revitalize a Dallas attack that ranked 30th in scoring (97.9 ppg), 27th in assists (20.8 pg) and 23rd with an offensive rating of 103.7.
“Those keys are earned. You know, it’s going to be an interesting training camp,” Nelson explained. “I think Dennis is going to play for one of the best coaches in the NBA. That being said, I think internally you can’t help but be excited by the potential, but he wouldn’t want it any other way. Just knowing the character of Dennis and knowing his family and surrounding structure, he’s going to want to earn those minutes. He’s truly a winner in every sense of the word.”