By: Scott Levine
When the Knicks selected Frank Ntilikina with the eighth pick, the Dallas war room celebrated. They then picked Dennis Smith, the player with the second highest upside in the draft.
Smith gives the Mavericks their first high-ceiling lottery point guard since they drafted Jason Kidd in 1994. While Smith does not have the playmaking ability that Kidd did, he has shown he can score off-the-dribble at all three levels, an important skill in the modern NBA. High-powered offenses such as the Warriors and Trailblazers run pick and roll sets predicated on the defense having to respect Curry and Lillard’s off-the-dribble threes. Smith also demonstrated elite handle and athleticism at NC State.
Mavericks Head Coach Rick Carlisle is a wizard. He can turn athletic scoring guards who don’t have elite vision into lead ballhandlers through his spaced-out high-tempo offensive sets. Monta Ellis thrived in a ball-dominant role in his two seasons as a Maverick. They ran him through screens and used dribble handoffs to initiate his attacks. Once he got downhill, Ellis was able to score or draw help and make easy reads.
Ellis also attacked off secondary actions, as Carlisle often plays two-ballhandler lineups. In the following clip, a pick and roll action with Devin Harris and Greg Smith causes Marco Belinelli to cheat too far to towards Harris, giving Ellis the opportunity to get a full head of steam to the rim and finish through contact.
Smith did not have much space to attack at NC State, but showed ability to get to the rim when given a sliver of daylight. He has a strong base that allowed him to absorb contact and make some impressive finishes.
Smith will benefit from having more space. But what happens when he doesn’t have an an open shot? He has yet to find a balance between knowing when to shoot and when to pass.
Smith has good vision when he is looking to pass.
But his vision breaks down when he is looking to score. In the following play, he doesn’t sense where help defense is coming from, and misses a wide open Abdul-Malik Abu.
However, when he tries too hard to hit the open man, he turns down scoring opportunities.
He let UNC’s Luke Maye off easy here. Smith used his second dribble to come to a stop as opposed to trying to charge at a Maye, who is less athletic and playing on his heels. That would have likely led to a bucket, free throws, or forced Kennedy Meeks to help off Beejay Anya, who would then be wide open under the rim. But instead, Smith seemed hell bent on getting Omer Yurtseven a semi-open fifteen footer.
NBA Scout Elon Vinokurov had this to say about Smith’s playmaking on the Rights to Ricky Sanchez Podcast.
I think he’s somebody that kind of doesn’t know how to run an offense. He just randomly floats back and forth between passing and shooting, but there’s never actually a reading of the defense, making the right play at the right time…it’s kind of mentally premeditating which one he’s going to do, and I think that’s a really immature way to play basketball…He’s got to evolve as a decision maker, and I think with that will hopefully come winning, it might just not happen on his first NBA team.
What Vinokurov is getting at is the main obstacle in Smith’s path to the All-Star Game. He can pass and he can score, but those skills are dulled if they’re deployed at the wrong times.
When Smith goes from looking to shoot to looking to pass, or vice versa, there is a bit of a lag to his game. You can almost see Smith’s brain taking a second to toggle between shooting mode and passing mode here when he picks up his dribble.
It’s not all doom and gloom for Smith’s playmaking chops, though. He showed a few flashes of being able to read and react while attacking.
Most of these passes happened when the defender helped off a teammate right in front of him. Rarely did he drive and kick it to a teammate not in his direct line of vision.The key for Smith will be to make these passes more often, and to realize where the help is coming from, no matter the angle.
Smith has a lot of time to learn as Dallas looks to rebuild, and is in one of the best systems for him to succeed in. Vinokurov said the above quote before Smith was drafted to the Mavericks, and was likely assuming there was a chance that Smith landed on an abysmal team with a discordant offense. In Dallas, Smith has a great chance to evolve as a decision maker on his first NBA team.