LAS VEGAS — Last night I arrived in Las Vegas for my fifth (and possibly final) Summer League. After five years of terrible basketball, looking for glints of NBA skill in dozens of players, it’s all paying off with the Dallas Mavericks drafting Dennis Smith, Jr.
Let’s be clear: Smith is the best basketball player to suit up for the Mavericks in Summer League going back to 2003 and Josh Howard. Since the 2010-11 Championship team, the Mavericks have had a parade of possible talents, none of whom panned out while in Dallas.
The 2012 roster featured first rounder Jared Cunningham and second round picks Jae Crowder and Bernard James. Journeyman Justin Dentmon dominated the ball and most of the shots, which didn’t allow much shine for any of the Maverick selections.
The 2013 team was not much better. Though both draft picks in Shane Larkin and Ricky Ledo were rostered, Larkin did not play a game after he hurt his ankle minutes into the first Summer League practice. That opened the doors for Gal Mekel, who Dallas eventually signed to an NBA contract (the Mavericks are still paying Mekel after cutting him and stretching his contract). Along with Mekel, Sarge, Crowder, and Josh Akognon got the most burn on a lackluster roster.
2014 featured a truly disastrous squad upon reflection, headlined by Gal Mekel and Ricky Ledo, neither of whom showed definable NBA skills in their second Summer League appearance. Bernard James was briefly rostered as well, after being a Maverick the previous two seasons. Journeyman Ivan Johnson heaved threes during his attempt at a comeback as a stretch four. Eric Griffin was the only real highlight and his career with Dallas never got off the ground.
The 2015 roster relied heavily on a shot happy Dwight Powell, who couldn’t much (and still can’t, years later), and the hyper athletic first round pick Justin Anderson. Last year’s team featured Anderson again and Jonathan Gibson, who had a cup of coffee with the NBA Mavericks.
Between 2011 and 2017, the Mavericks made the playoffs four times, just missed the cut one year, and finally fell significantly below .500 this past season. That the previous teams didn’t feature uber-talented players is mainly due to a combination of draft position and a lack of priority on drafting and development.
Which brings us to Smith. The MFFLs already know about Smith, who is elevating expectations with each play. The MavCasuals will discover him soon. I, for one, am incredibly excited. I’ve watched a lot of Summer League the last several years and the chance to see someone this athletic and skilled is thrilling.
I suspect this will be his last Summer League appearance, so everyone should soak in this experience as much as we can.