DALLAS — Although it was only first-round draft pick Dennis Smith Jr.’s second professional game with the Dallas Mavericks, according to coach Rick Carlisle and 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki, it will serve as a lesson learned for years to come.
Matching up Monday night against two-time MVP Stephen Curry and the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors, Smith returned to the lineup after missing the previous two games due to left knee effusion. The cat-quick point guard was then immediately thrown into the fire, squaring off head-to-head with a perennial All-Star at his position. And after seeing Curry explode for a game-high 29 points and eight assists to help lead the Warriors (2-2) to a runaway 133-103 victory on the Mavericks’ home floor, Carlisle says Smith learned what he can expect to face on a nightly basis in the NBA.
“Well, there’s a lot of learning that’s going to happen in a very short period of time. And this is as challenging a situation a rookie point guard is going to be put in two games into his career,” Carlisle said after Smith’s 3-of-11 shooting night for 10 points and six rebounds in Monday’s loss. “I mean, this is his second game. I thought he did a lot of good things. Stats aren’t great, but he created a lot of problems at a lot of key points in the game when we were in the game. He’s just going to keep learning, and we’re going to support him.”
Led by Curry’s 7-of-15 shooting, the Warriors’ 55.8 percent from the field as a team bettered the Mavericks’ 39.6 percent for the game. Golden State also finished the night with a 50-42 rebounding edge, overcoming 16 turnovers for 18 Dallas points. More impressively, the Warriors put their foot on the gas in the second half after Smith and the Mavericks (0-4) closed to within three, 65-62, entering the intermission. That said, Nowitzki believes Smith received a crash course on what it will take for the Mavericks to compete with the league’s upper-echelon teams.
“Well, you know, the rookie season is tough, especially if you’re the point guard. There’s a lot of great players out there, and he’s going to have a challenge every night,” Nowitzki admitted. “Hopefully he can stay healthy here, get better from week to week, month to month, learn the rules, learn about some of those players and read the game better. But like I said, the sky is the limit. The kid is only 19, and he’s going to have a great, great future. But the first year is always tough. I don’t care who you are.”
Like Smith, Curry came into the league with a lot of high expectations as the seventh overall pick in the 2009 draft. He’s since lived up to and exceeded those expectations, making three straight All-Star appearances. Curry also became the first player in league history to unanimously win the MVP award during the ’15-16 season. And after leading the Warriors to three straight trips to the NBA Finals while capturing two titles, Smith says Curry has reached heights that he hopes to ascend to during his career.
Watching from afar as the 19-year-old Smith became the youngest player in league history to debut with a double-double in points and assists last Wednesday against Atlanta, Curry also sees Smith coming into his own during the seasons to come. Meanwhile, Curry believes Smith will lead the Mavericks to plenty of team success during his time in Dallas. But with their first head-to-head matchup going the Warriors’ way, Smith says he still has a lot to learn in order to reach Curry’s elite level.
“I mean, he’s a really good player,” Smith respectfully said of Curry. “You know, he’s different. I never guarded him or Klay (Thompson) before. That’s my first time, so I’ve got some adjustments to make. But, you know, I’m learning. … Debatably, he’s the best point guard in the NBA. That’s a goal I’m trying to get to.”
“He’s super athletic. You know, he knows how to play the game, and that’s the thing that’s the most underrated aspect of his game,” Curry said Monday with high praise for Smith. “The way he sees the floor, the way he tries to get his teammates involved, and he can shoot it. A lot of people fall in love with the way that he can high fly and play above the rim at times and just his explosiveness. But the thing that’s going to help him be a long-lasting pro and probably an All-Star one day in this league is that ability to play five-man basketball and get other guys involved, using his strengths to open up looks for other teammates. That’s something that you never know how rookies are going to transition into that mindset, as a point guard especially, and he’s shown he can do that. I’m sure that will continue, and it will only get better.”
Note: The Mavericks will now return to American Airlines Center on Wednesday against the Southwest Division rival Memphis Grizzlies. 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.
Devin Harris (personal reasons) — out
Seth Curry (stress reaction, left tibia) — out
Josh McRoberts (lower extremity injury) — out