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Why did Dennis Smith Jr. play tonight?

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After tweaking his ankle the night before, we learned one of Smith Jr.’s goals when he took the floor against the Hornets

NBA: Preseason-Dallas Mavericks at Charlotte Hornets Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

Last night, late in the 3rd Quarter, Dennis Smith Jr. rolled his ankle dribbling into the paint. Then he limped around for a few possessions and when play stopped Coach Carlisle pulled him from the game in which he did not return.

Preseason is tough across all sports. On one hand, despite the Summer League’s advancements, it’s the closest environment to simulate actual NBA basketball. On the other hand, Preseason exists as another opportunity for the unthinkable to occur. Just two days ago the Charlotte Hornets own Nic Batum sprained his left elbow in a game against the Boston Celtics and will miss up to 12 weeks. Risking injury is something that all coaches have to weigh in the Preseason.

Smith Jr.’s ankle injury wasn’t too severe and after the game Coach Carlisle seemed to pencil him into the lineup for the second night of a back-to-back.

After a scare like that though, why risk further injury? There’s a lot riding on the 19-year-old rookie heading into the season/home opener on Wednesday in Dallas, both on and off the court. His reason wasn’t necessarily to get more experience. His reason wasn’t specifically to play in his home state in front of family members. His reason was to continue to do what he’s been doing all summer.

Before the game tonight Smith told ESPN:

“One of my goals is to really not miss any games. Since my ACL injury—missed the whole year with that—for whatever reason people think I get hurt a lot. My ankle got stepped on last night.”

Even though Smith Jr. famously says...

...when asked about his doubters, there are still some negative voices nagging at him. His point rings true, there were questions about his desire to play before the draft. Now that he’s been drafted into a great situation there’s probably a mental checklist of things he wants to prove he can (and will not) do in the NBA. Not missing any games seems to be one of them. Throughout the rest of the season more points on his hitlist should surface, (hopefully with a posterizing dunk on the other end) and we will start to learn more about the kind of player Dennis Smith Jr. can really become. To start, we know Durability is one of those things.