With a black hoodie and a pink backpack with the movie character “Moana” on it, Mavericks (7-18) rookie guard Dennis Smith Jr. was ready to depart from TD Garden after a 97-90 loss to the streaking Celtics (22-4). Smith’s night was a struggling for him as he went 4-of-16 (25%) from the field and finishing with 12 points and 6 rebounds.
Despite Smith Jr.’s first NBA game in Boston not finishing ideally with a win, his night was somewhat highlighted when he and Kyrie Irving got into during the first quarter. Smith Jr. was speeding to the hoop from the right wing when he was fouled by Irving. Smith Jr. started talking to the left when Irving, near the basket, raised both his arms hitting the rookie. Both players got into it and received technical fouls.
“We was just playing ball, man,” Smith Jr. told CLNS. “I mean he threw an elbow. If we gon’ play ball, just keep it ball. Don’t do all the extra stuff. The locker rooms are right beside each other. Don’t do the extracurricular.”
Smith Jr., an aggressive player on the court, showed in his verbal altercation with the four-time All-Star that he isn’t scared of anyone, even though he’s a rookie continuing to adjust to the NBA. Through 23 games he’s averaging 14.4 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists. Just a quarter of the way through his inaugural season, and he’s shown the ability to be a capable pro.
“It’s a process,” said Smith Jr. “I’m learning a lot and it’s good for me to be out there and get some experience with some vets.”
The newly turned 20-year-old is showing to be one of the best Maverick rookies in over 20 seasons, as his 331 points are the through a quarter of the team’s games since Jamal Mashburn’s 492 in 1993-’94. His 93 assists and rebounds are the most by a Mav guard since Jason Kidd in 1994-’95.
“It’s a big difference,” said Smith Jr. “The NBA game is so much different than college. It’s a lot faster and the guys are a lot better.”
Not only is the young guard putting up numbers no Mavs guard has done in almost two decades, but he’s also shown the ability to use his athleticism to create opportunities at the basket. As he’s currently on a seven-game streak of double-digit scoring – second time this season he’s done so.
Despite his impressive play, he’s not impressed. As he knows he can be better, especially when it comes to his efficiency, with him posting a slash-line of .395/.306/.660.
“Just everything,” said Smith Jr. “Being more efficient. I got to accept as a rookie I’m not going to get the same calls as everybody else. Just not going in expecting the call, which I’ve been doing a better of that. It’s almost like I got to try to not get the contact now and just score the ball. As a rookie, you don’t get the same calls as everybody else. It’s just about being more efficient on both ends.”
As his career progresses he’ll begin to garner more calls and trips to his free-throw line. His attempts from NC State to now have dipped from 6.3 to 2.2 per game. It’s a common trope for some rookies not to get the calls the desire, as they did back in high school or college.
Despite not getting the calls he’ll eventually get, Smith Jr. being at NC State gave him a platform to show scouts and NBA executives he wasn’t missing a step after tearing his ACL prior to his senior season in high school. In Smith’s case, like a certain amount of high schoolers, he had created a body of work for himself on the high school court, along with attending various camps and showing his skillset on the AAU circuit.
Smith Jr. was going to be drafted regardless if he had attended college or not, because of his play against top players against the nation. He had offers from Duke, North Carolina, and Kentucky, but settled on playing for the Wolfpack which led him to average 18.1 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 6.2 assists.
With that said, the NBA has recently given thought of getting rid of the dubbed “one-and-done” rule and just reverting back to the previous ruling of players entering the draft out of college, but with a twist. In reports, players who don’t declare after graduating high school would need to at least be two years removed from their high school graduation.
“I hope they do that,” said Smith Jr., in favor of draft reform. “Some people really be needing that money. But I mean if you go to college you should do two. That would make sense.”
No firm decision has been reported, as both, the NBA and NBPA will continue to discuss possible changes to the draft, akin to how the league modified the lottery odds for teams effective in 2019.
The league, in comparison to the other major sports, has shown a tendency in being open to change, whether the idea will sink or fail. From changing the game ball in 2006 to the aforementioned “one-and-done” rule. Progression and risks are why the league continues to grow worldwide.
The progression and risks are also why the league wasn’t scared to adjust the main event on All-Star Saturday night: the dunk contest. From having teams just a few years ago to the return of having a certain amount of attempts to complete a dunk. The contest will always be about the art and entertainment of dunking. Something Smith Jr., who has a 48-inch vertical, has mastered throughout his basketball career and is interested in participating in the contest.
“I would like to do it. But I mean with how the season is going, right now I’m just focused on winning the next game. The dunk contest, that would be cool. I like to watch it, so participating would be a good idea.”
As for possible dunks, if he were in the contest, the rookie kept the possibilities top secret.
“Can’t tell you that,” he said. “I want it to be a surprise if I do get in it.”