“There was an uproarious group applause in there,” Rick Carlisle said. “It was thunderous. We’re very fortunate.”
The Mavericks got their guy
With the ensuing ninth pick, Dallas took Dennis Smith, Jr. from N.C. State, and a franchise that had spent years chasing stars and dreams through free agency might have finally gotten their star from the process fans had been begging them to use since the title team — the draft.
In any other recent draft, Smith would have been regarded as a top five or even top three pick. In a loaded draft like this one, the Mavs magically landed the point guard of their dreams. After the failed Deron Williams chase in 2012, the Darren Collison-Derek Fisher-Mike James saga and the Rajon Rondo mishap, the drafting of Smith felt like the relief the Mavs and the fans have been seeking for years.
“It was a happy moment because unlike some of the past drafts, the guy we really wanted, we got,” current Mavs team executive and former Mavs All-Star Michael Finley said.
Carlisle isn’t one to succumb to hyperbole, so it was eye-opening to hear him throw some of the superlatives out there about picking Smith. “This is a historic night for us,” he said after declaring that as of right now he’d project Smith as the starting point guard.
“We’re getting a guy that’s an instant impact guy,” Carlisle said. “He has great quickness, he's explosive, he can score, he can pass.”
This was much needed for the Mavs. It was their first top-10 draft pick since 1998, the year Dirk was drafted. It was coming after their first losing season in 17 years. Every move since the title team and the Rondo trade seemed to drop the Mavericks deeper into irrelevancy. The Harrison Barnes signing and Nerlens Noel trade seem to have turned things around, and the Smith pick may well be the topper.
With the Mavs’ draft history, there was so much potential for this to go wrong. The Knicks made their pick at eight, and Mavs twitter almost swallowed itself as we waited until the clock had nearly run out for the Mavs decision to leak. What if they picked Zach Collins? What if they traded back? Instead, they stayed put and picked the stud.
There is no guarantee that Smith is a sure thing, and the Mavs will tell you that. “We don't want to get too excited about players, but he's got all the right stuff,” Mavs GM Donnie Nelson said.
Nelson, Carlisle and Finley all preached that Smith would have to earn his minutes, earn his starting job. And as Carlisle always preaches with younger guys, defense will take time.
“That's something we talked to him about, that it would be challenging and that there would be times some of the veterans are gonna play ahead of him for that reason,” Carlisle said. “He’s gonna have to push and continue to push to learn about the importance of defense and the different dynamics of the NBA.”
As far as other cons from Smith, the Mavs covered their bases. They had their team sports psychologist talk to Smith and he told Carlisle he’s an “OKG -- Our Kinda Guy.” The Mavs didn’t get to workout Smith in Dallas, but they went to his pro day and talked to him over video chat a couple days ago. There have been rumblings since his season ended that Smith had some attitude issues that led to N.C State’s disappointing season and the ousting of their head coach. The Mavs feel they’ve done their due diligence there.
What Smith brings to the table
Other than that, the Smith pick almost feels too good to be true. Dallas has been yearning for an athletic point guard like a man lost in the desert looking for water. Smith doesn’t just have good pick-and-roll skills, he’s a monstrous athlete. This is a dude that has no fear going toward the rim.
This is a guy that told the Mavs he’s “Derrick Rose with a jump shot” and, honestly, looking at his film, you can’t help but think of Rose back in his MVP form before the injuries. He should excel in the pick and roll in Dallas, playing with real NBA teammates and not mediocre college ones. When Smith turns the corner on his first pick and roll with Dirk, it’ll probably look like the Red Sea is parting for him.
“Dirk can teach me a lot of things even though he’s never been a ball handler in the pick and roll,” Smith said on the phone after getting drafted. “He can teach me a lot because he knows the ins and outs of the game, and I'm looking forward to learning from him.”
What Smith means for the future
A year ago the Mavs had seemingly no promising players under the age of 30. Now they have Nerlens Noel, Harrison Barnes and Dennis Smith. He’ll compliment their games, giving Noel a lob partner and Barnes an outlet to take some of the pressure off him on offense. Nelson called it a “retool” in order to avoid the dreaded “rebuilding” term, but it’s hard not to get excited about this young crew giving Dirk one last ride and then taking the reigns when he’s gone.
This was the most important draft for the Mavericks in 20 years. They needed someone who could become a star once Dirk retires. Drafts are crap-shoots, so who really knows, but they did the best they could and they got not only their guy, but the fans’ guy too.
That sounds like a cause for celebration.
“There was a lot of chest bumping out there,” Nelson said about the war room right after Smith was picked. “Lot of chest bumping, high-fiving. We work all year, scour the earth and come together and it's a really intense time. This was one that we had to get right.”