Unpacking Dennis Smith’s NBA Debut

By: Scott Levine

There is speculation that Dennis Smith will do enough boneheaded rookie things for Carlisle to sporadically bench him out of frustration. I think he will start all year. Rick Carlisle is not going to be the same guy who called Darren Collison “a career backup.” He knows what he has in Smith, and is taking a more patient approach to success after enduring his first losing season in Dallas.

This means we’re going to be able to put Dennis Smith under a microscope, and I definitely enjoy doing that. The article I wrote in late June can serve as a baseline for what Smith’s game is coming into the NBA: a rare talent who to as all the skills you want in a star point guard, but does not have a feel for the game that suggests he should start on even a 35-win team.

While there was a lot to like about Smith’s NBA debut, there were some real head scratchers.


Even if we have a small sample size on this mistake, it’s such an egregiously incorrect read that it’s a cause for concern.

In my article in June, I reference his tendency to not find open teammates. I also talked about how he often hits the open man later than he should. Dallas’ spaced out offense allows him to attack and make easy reads, but there were times he held onto the ball a second too long.


Dirk makes the shot anyways, because he’s Dirk. But a better defensive team might take away that shot if Smith waits as long to find an open teammate.

It’s hard to tell if these warts are a factor of Smith adjusting to the speed of the NBA, or a fundamental flaw in the way he plays basketball. He demonstrated lack of advanced feel at times in college, but looked a lot sharper in the slowed down Summer League. My guess is he has the ability to make the necessary reads, but has a long way to go before he can consistently make them within the speed of an NBA game.

I’m being harsh on Smith considering this was his first game. But I believe he has the potential to be one of the best point guards in the league, and therefore have high standards for him. I still think he is the front runner to win Rookie of the Year, especially if he continues to put up 16 and 10.

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