Summer league has come and gone, and we have all received our first taste of the Dennis Smith Jr. experience. Highlight tapes have lived on Youtube for quite a while, but for the first time, we were able to see with our own eyes what endeared the Mavericks front office to the electrifying rookie point guard.
With his unique combination of explosiveness, vision and pure scoring, Smith Jr. may be unlike any point guard we have ever seen in a Dallas uniform. At the very least, it seems safe to say the Mavericks will finally get a quality return on investment from their draft capital.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We must remember Smith Jr. is only a rookie, and there will be rookie growing pains. Head coach Rick Carlisle knows that and has touched on the team’s plans to acclimate the rookie to the rigors of the NBA.
In fact, Dallas might be the ideal landing spot for a rookie point guard to thrive. First, Carlisle is an offensive genius; he will not put Smith Jr. in spots where he won’t be successful. Second, the team has several veteran guards from whom Smith Jr. will learn. And third, if all else breaks down, Smith Jr. needs only to find Nowitzki, and everything else will take care of itself.
How am I so confident Smith Jr. will flourish his rookie season? Case in point: Yogi Ferrell. As an undrafted rookie, Ferrell bounced from the Brooklyn Nets to the D League (now G League), and then to the Maverick, where he promptly started a ton of games and earned an All-Rookie Second Team nod. Imagine what a blue-chip draft prospect can do in the same environment.
Let’s examine a few plays we could see the Mavericks deploy for Smith Jr.
High ball screen
The high ball screen is great action to allow Smith Jr. to get downhill and use his speed and explosiveness to his advantage. Watch as Dirk crosses half court and subtly turns back to screen Ferrell’s defender. This creates an obvious mismatch 30 feet from the basket in which Ferrell gets the big man on his heels and is rewarded with a clean pull up jumper. Insert Smith Jr. and this action becomes even more lethal. Smith Jr. against a four or five that far from the rim will result in a layup nine times out of ten. Carlisle will take that every day of the week.
Ball screen with trailer
Another variation of the high ball screen Dallas uses frequently incorporates a trailing Dirk Nowitzki. This action is best used on the break or quickly in the half court set. Watch as Noel sets the ball screen and rolls hard to the rim. His gravity sucks Dirk’s defender down causing a scramble that puts the defense out of position. From here, Ferrell (or Smith Jr.) can either try to beat his defender, look for Noel on the lob or hit Dirk for the trailing three.
This action would provide Smith Jr. with three easy looks that highlight the strengths of the three players involved with Smith Jr.’s explosiveness, Noel’s rim running ability and Dirk’s shooting. A Dirk Nowitzki top-of-the-key-three as the third read is brilliant offensive execution.
The pick and pop is the bread and butter of the Mavericks offense. When you have a shooter who has scored 30,000 points in his career, it only makes sense. With Dirk, this action naturally puts the point guard in a successful situation, and in the clip above J.J. Barea is the guard calling the shots. Notice DeMarcus Cousins does not commit fully to Barea or Dirk, leaving Barea in a win-win situation. He could either take the ball all the way to the cup, or, as he does in this clip, kick it back to Dirk for a shot he can hit with his eyes closed.
Put Dennis Smith Jr. in this action, and the defense is immediately in a desperate situation. The big guarding Dirk will either have to commit fully to Smith Jr. or risk giving up a two-on-one situation on the back end. Smith Jr. can either dump it off to the short corner or (unlike the other guards on the roster) bring the house down on a highlight reel dunk.
These actions just begin to scratch the surface of ways Smith Jr. can thrive in his rookie season. Carlisle can put him in pick-and-roll situations with Noel. He can play Smith Jr. off the ball and blow by defenders on closeouts. The possibilities seem endless.
Many point guards have come through Dallas and reaped the rewards of Carlisle’s system. Jameer Nelson was at the helm of an offense humming at a historic pace. Jose Calderon shouldered lead guard duties on a squad that took the eventual 2014 NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs to seven games in the first round of the playoffs.
Smith Jr. could represent a new era for the Dallas Mavericks, but he needs a successful rookie season first. After watching Yogi Ferrell and others seize the opportunity given to them by the Mavericks, there’s no reason to think Smith Jr. won’t do the same.