Rick Carlisle hopes to grow Dennis Smith Jr.’s defensive abilities, all-around game to help make him ‘franchise-caliber player’

DALLAS — He comes into the NBA as one of the most athletic and explosive players in this year’s draft class. Now, first-round draft pick Dennis Smith Jr. will be asked to use that raw athleticism in order to develop into one of the league’s best two-way players.

Selected by the Dallas Mavericks with the ninth overall selection in last week’s draft, Smith comes into the league with high expectations already placed on his broad shoulders. The 6-foot-3, 195-pounder averaged 18.1 points, 4.6 rebounds and 6.2 assists while shooting 45.5 percent from the field and 35.9 percent from behind the three-point arc during his lone collegiate season at North Carolina State. He also earned the Atlantic Coast Conference Freshman of the Year Award and a spot on the All-ACC Second Team after leading the league in assists and finishing sixth in the conference in scoring. Smith will now be asked to step in and immediately elevate a Dallas offense that ranked 30th in scoring (97.9 ppg), 27th in assists (20.8 apg) and 23rd with an offensive rating of 103.7. But according to Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, Smith’s development at both ends of the floor will be the focus in Year 1 as the team tries to foster the full potential of the budding star.

“We’re excited, and we know that we’ve got a kid that is extremely motivated and that has tremendous ability. And our job going forward here is to give him the tools to have ultimate success to become a great player and to become a franchise-caliber player,” Carlisle said Friday during Smith’s introductory press conference with the Dallas media. “You know, I really believe that he understands there’s a lot of work involved. I don’t believe he wants anything handed to him, and I think he has full intention of earning everything. And we’re excited to have him here today and to get started.

“This is a fact. There’s no player that comes into this that can be totally prepared to play defense in the NBA with the pace, the strength difference, the speed difference and all those kinds of things. But I think Dennis understands that staying on the court to do that means you’ve got to be strong in both areas,” the coach explained. “It’s important to attack the guy that’s going to be attacking you at the other end, but you’ve got to be able to guard him, too. And you’ve got to have a system in place where your teammates can help you do that, so that’s going to be one of the biggest parts of his learning curve. You know, I expect the offensive stuff to happen pretty naturally just based on what I’ve seen on film, but NBA defense is a different metabolic situation. There’s a lot to learn, and he understands that.”

Smith’s offensive game is unquestioned after becoming the first player to lead the ACC among freshmen in points and assists since Ed Cota during the 1996-97 season. The Fayetteville, N.C., native also showed glimpses of being able to impact the game in a multitude of ways after becoming the first player in ACC history to record two triple-doubles in the same season during conference play. However, despite his offensive prowess and hard play, Smith admits that he has much to learn on the defensive end in order to reach his full potential.

Smith, 19, averaged a staggering 1.9 steals per game last season with the Wolfpack, showing an uncanny ability to play the passing lanes and create turnovers. However, the cat-quick guard confesses that he still has to learn the proper way to play defense within a team system, hoping to pick up Carlisle’s defensive principles and philosophies quickly during his first season. And despite naysayers doubting his defensive abilities and effort level coming into the draft, Smith looks forward to giving the Mavericks a spark at both ends of the floor next season against a gauntlet of point guards in the Western Conference.

“I just go out and play my game, and everything else will take care of itself,” Smith explained. “(Criticism) wasn’t frustrating. Like I said, I go out there and try to be the best Dennis Smith Jr. I can every game. My teammates appreciated my effort, my coach and the rest of the staff approached my effort to a maximum level, so I think I did a good job with that. And they feel the same.

“I want to learn exactly how to play defense,” he added. “You know, that’s not something that was really pressed about last year. And with the staff we had, we were more of an offense-oriented team, so we really didn’t learn too much about defense. I’m looking forward to learning a lot about it this year, and I think that will be the main thing — learning how to play.”

Mavs are preparing first-round pick Justin Anderson for steep learning curve in Year 1

DALLAS — Although he’s yet to step onto the court for a meaningful NBA game, Dallas Mavericks first-round draft pick Justin Anderson is already preparing for a whirlwind rookie year this upcoming season.

Selected with the 21st overall pick in June’s NBA Draft, the 6-foot-6 Anderson quickly picked up the Mavericks’ playbook before heading to the Las Vegas Summer League in July. Anderson then didn’t take long to showcase why he was such an attractive prospect for the Mavs in the draft, starting all six of the summer-league squad’s games en route to the quarterfinals of the tournament and averaging 17.5 points, 4.2 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.2 steals an outing.

Still, the former Virginia standout knows that he has much more to grasp in order to earn the trust of his veteran teammates and Mavs coach Rick Carlisle in Year 1.

“I woud grade it as a B-plus, because coming in I was very anxious and I was very nervous about how I would perform,” Anderson said while summing up his summer-league experience. “You know, it’s a totally different ballgame. I remember the first game I went out and played (in Summer League). It was against New Orleans, and the first like eight minutes of that game I was just dog tired. It’s completely different basketball than what I’m used to in college. And once I started to realize that in college it was a lot slower and a lot more packed in the paint, this you can get to the rim kind of at ease. It’s a lot more space, so I’ve learned a lot about myself. And I just have to continue to stay confident and work hard.”

Anderson’s hard work certainly paid off at the collegiate level.

The 230-pounder played three years at Virginia while leading the Cavaliers to two Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season titles and just the second ACC tournament championship in school history. As a junior, he averaged 12.2 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.7 assists, connecting on 46.6 percent from the field on his way to being named to the NABC All-America Third Team and All-ACC Second Team.

Anderson also proved that he could develop into an assassin from the outside, which may translate to the pro game. And after seeing the versatile swingman improve his three-point shooting from just 29.4 percent as a sophomore to an ACC-leading 45.2 percent during his junior campaign, Carlisle is confident that Anderson will quickly adjust to the longer distance in the NBA.

“Justin is a unique kid,” Carlisle explained while assessing Anderson’s raw athletic ability. “He’s a three-year guy. He’s gotten better each year. He’s very physically strong. We feel he’s a wing player that could play either the two or the three. We believe that he’s got an NBA body, and he was one of the strongest kids in the draft positionally. He’s in a good position coming here. You know, we have to fill roster spots, we need to get younger, and so he makes a lot of sense for us. And we need to improve our defense. He’s a solid defender, and he’s a guy whose shooting has gotten better the last three years.

“Of course, he hasn’t played in NBA games, so there’s always going to be some kind of learning curve. … It’s really a quantum leap, in terms of the competition, but his strength as a player translates well to the longer three-point line. He’s one of those rare guys that has the strength to elevate from a long distance, and he still is able to get the ball to the basket and in the basket. So, you know, what we’re seeing more and more of these days, if you watch guys like (Stephen) Curry and (Klay) Thompson and (J.J.) Redick, a lot of these guys are running off screens for 26 and 27-foot shots. You know, that has not been a big part of Justin’s game, but he has the physical tools to get there. And that’s a very positive thing, too.”

With that said, Anderson and Carlisle agree that the rookie will have a steep learning curve to absorb in his first season.

Looking to learn from 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki and the rest of the Mavericks’ veteran leaders, Anderson admits that he will have to enter the Dallas locker room with a humble demeanor. He also knows that he will have plenty to prove on the court, putting aside his prior success in college and taking a clean slate into the start of training camp on Sept. 29.

And once he has earned the respect of his teammates, Anderson says he will set out to make opposing teams pay attention to his abilities on the court.

“I’m just a rookie, so they’re going to make me prove myself and say, ‘You’re going to have to hit that shot,’ in order for them to close out and everything on me. But when I have great vets that can score the ball with great ease and Nowitzki picking and popping, it can help,” Anderson explained. “I don’t want to speak too soon. I just want to stay humble and just continue to be a sponge. Now, it’s like I said before: it’s not time to reinvent the wheel. They know exactly what I’m capable of, and I want to be really good at things I’m already pretty good at. So, I just want to take that next step, being good defensively on the ball and off the ball, rotating and then being able to operate out of those corners, because that’s where I think our front office and coaching staff think I can be effective.

“I’m still hungry, and I still want to learn and get better. I just can’t wait to learn more and be around my teammates. Being around those vets, I just can’t wait to continue to learn.”