One of the biggest reasons Dennis Smith Jr. fell to the Dallas Mavericks on draft night was his reputation for questionable effort in unfavorable situations. Almost as soon as he was drafted that knock on his character became more like a tickle for Mavericks fans, making them laugh at the very idea. All away-season Smith Jr. said all the right things and made everyone forget that the effort issue even existed. Instead of the sometimes selfish and lackadaisical player many draft experts advertised, Smith Jr. has shown nothing of the sort. DSJ has been a team player, coachable, and excited about winning as a team.
First win at AAC is something I’ll never forget!! #MFFL #PeoplesChamp pic.twitter.com/IXWZ15Qbkc— Dennis Smith Jr. (@Dennis1SmithJr) October 26, 2017
But now, 10 games into the season, Smith Jr. has been able to celebrate just that once.
Rebuilding is tough, just ask Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, and Eric Bledsoe. Or listen to any post-game audio of Dirk Nowitzki these days—it’s almost heartbreaking. But heart is what it takes to push through and play like these games actually mean something. Rebuilding is hard and playing on a team at the beginning of this (for lack of a better term) process is even harder. The Mavericks are a bad team, and it’s just going to get harder for the 19-year-old rookie to say all of the right things like he did while he was wrecking Summer League rosters. It’ll take a certain determination, and for Dennis Smith Jr. that perseverance comes one game at a time.
“That first win felt great, unfortunately it’s our only one. Our [main thing] is to get another win and get rolling from there...It’s a long season, the same way that we lost 8-9 straight, we can win 8-9 straight. We gotta be glass half full.”
That glass-half-full mentality is exactly what Mavericks fans should hope continues, because that 8-9 win streak Smith Jr. is looking for isn’t going to come easily. The Mavericks own the worst record in the NBA, and while they miss starter Seth Curry, there isn’t much else in the form of reinforcements to bring a nine-games-under-.500 team back to life.
As the losses mount and the schedule gets tougher over the next few months, Dennis Smith Jr. will face a difficult task: keeping anything in that glass.
Over the past few offseasons, the NBA has overhauled the slog of the schedule, most recently removing 4-games-in-5-nights situations in an attempt to make the season more player friendly. But the NBA season is still a beast. Just look at Smith Jr.’s face after Jeff “Skin” Wade reminded him that the season was only 10 days old on the Numbers on the Boards podcast:
When @SkinWade told @Dennis1SmithJr that the NBA season was only a week and half old pic.twitter.com/jGbzRfah8W— NoneOfYourBusiness (@NickVanExit) October 31, 2017
They call it a rookie wall for a reason, and when Dennis Smith Jr. hits it, some of those old tendencies may resurface and that glass might stop looking half full.
Every game is a test of Dennis Smith Jr.’s skill and growth, but every loss is a test of his character and perseverance. After an awful day at work or after failing a test in school doesn’t everyone just want to go home and binge watch something and eat until they forget what happened? But the spotlight for an NBA player doesn’t stop when their workday stops. As soon as the buzzer sounds, members of the media flow into the locker room and sit and wait in a mob in the locker room. And because of Harrison Barnes and Dirk Nowitzki’s postgame schedules, the media waits around Smith Jr.’s locker first. On game days there is almost literally nowhere to hide.
Rick Carlisle recently discussed the tough road ahead for Smith Jr:
“It’s going to be a day by day thing. Point guard position is the most important position in the NBA game and it’s also the most involved when it comes to the nuances and the details. We’ve got to have a high level of patience on the one hand, on the other hand we’ve got to push him in the areas where we can push him.”
The hope for every Mavs fan is that the characteristics he displayed in the offseason hold up throughout this season and his career with the Mavericks—he has shown no signs of anything else. But the test is coming and the only thing we can do is sit back and see if there’s still something to laugh about in the end.