Most Dallas Mavericks fans were ready to start the season back on June 22nd when the Mavs selected Dennis Smith Jr. with the ninth pick in the draft. Since then we have dissected every bit of summer basketball tape, collectively awed at open gym dunks, and now all this training camp, preseason, waiting around has got us like
But we’re here. We made it, just one day from the regular season.
It can be difficult to keep the adrenaline and excitement for a new season with a budding star in check, especially when it’s the Mavericks, who have had three draft picks over the last 20 years (not really...but kind of).
So yes, MFFLS should all practice some breathing exercises, lower their heart rates and remember that a rookie season is filled with peaks and valleys.
But it’s ok to ask yourself what’s reasonable. With the trust of Rick Carlisle and the front office behind him, what is realistic over the next 82 games for DSJ?
Looking at past success to see his future
Smith Jr. has been compared to a handful of point guards, both retired and active: Baron Davis, Steve Francis, Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, John Wall. Junior has bits and pieces of all these players in his game, and like most of these guards, he looks to be taking on a decent workload this season.
These are the per-36 numbers for their rookie seasons:
Putting Smith Jr.’s numbers up next to these players isn’t necessarily fair. The other point guards have stats for a full season, and DSJ has six preseason games that hardly meant anything. But, it’s a start.
Context is also important. Each player’s production was influenced by the roster around him, and the opportunities he was given. It should be no surprise that the one rookie who didn’t start (Baron Davis) was on the team that ended with the best record. The rest of these teams, relying on a young rookie point guard to be the floor general, had a pretty tough time in the wins department. But there should be little doubt that these guards also benefited long term from that kind of opportunity at the beginning of their careers.
One positive not mentioned in the table above: Dennis Smith Jr. shot 45 percent from three in the preseason; the only point guard to shoot over 30 percent from behind the arc their rookie year was Francis (34.5 percent). DSJ might be able to separate himself from the pack with that added dimension.
Junior getting to run the show
It’s hard to look at Rick Carlisle’s track record when it comes to playing rookies and project the minutes DSJ will get any given night. Carlisle has simply not had a player like this at his disposal. He’s also never praised a young player so readily this early in the relationship.
Still, it’s hard to imagine Smith Jr. consistently pushing 36 minutes per game, at least early on. It’s clear that the coaching staff is comfortable handing the reins over to Junior out the gate. But with J.J. Barea healthy and able, and guys like Yogi Ferrell, Devin Harris, and eventually Seth Curry with skills to run the show, DSJ should be seeing the floor around 30 minutes per game.
Even though he enters the league on a team that isn’t playoff competitive, Dennis Smith Jr. is set up in a favorable situation. In fact, I’d say he’s better set up for long-term success than any of the other point guards drafted in the lottery this summer. He has a top-five coach steering the ship, a once-in-a-lifetime basketball angel to play next to in Dirk Nowitzki, and a cast of veterans willing and able to mentor the young star.
It will be DSJ’s job to take advantage of his opportunities, persevere through the struggles, and follow in the footsteps of all the point guards he sees his name next to. It will be our job to watch in awe.