Tale as old as time
Song as old as rhyme
Rookie and the leash
My wife’s love of "Beauty and the Beast" led me to this, and maybe I’m reaching a little bit with that reference, but we’re all here to have fun, right?
Rookies tend to have less margin for error than veterans do in the NBA. Their leashes are shorter, so to speak, and especially in Dallas. For years, Rick Carlisle has built up a reputation for being hard on rookies and being hard on point guards in general. That reputation has softened somewhat in the past season, as we saw the rebuilding Mavericks move towards using younger, more inexperienced guys like Yogi Ferrell and Dorian Finney-Smith in significant game action.
Dennis Smith Jr., the Dallas Mavericks’ shiny new prospect, just so happens to be both a rookie and a point guard. But with the new youth movement in Dallas, I’m here to tell you that it is going to work out great in time, and it’s going to be a beautiful storybook ending, just like in "Beauty and the Beast."
Only in this version of the story, things are getting off to a much better start, hopefully.
If you asked Carlisle about being hard on rookies, he would downplay the idea. He simply wants to extract the most production from a player that he possibly can. He believes in them, and he want them to accept some constructive criticism and believe in themselves as well. An encouraging sign to me is that Smith seems to have the resolve needed to not only survive Carlisle’s coaching, but to thrive in it.
Smith’s effort and mental toughness won’t be the biggest question. The real question is how much slack in the leash will Smith be given when he makes mistakes? If Smith has a couple of bad games in a row, will Carlisle bench him for veteran J.J. Barea or sophomore Yogi Ferrell? Given Smith’s performances in the Las Vegas Summer League, let’s hope that’s not the case, because he showed us that he can bounce back from a bad game like it’s nothing.
In his fifth Summer League game, despite having four good games prior, Smith struggled against the Boston Celtics, despite his team winning easily. He only played 16 minutes while posting a stat line of 3 points, 2 assists and 1 rebound. How did he respond against Lonzo Ball and the Los Angeles Lakers in the semi-finals? Despite the loss, he posted 21 points, 6 assists and 3 rebounds and went toe-to-toe with Ball.
Obviously, that’s just Summer League action, but you get the idea. It would be nice to see Smith keep the starting point guard spot all season, learning from his mistakes with more experience.
There’s a reason that there were rumors about Markelle Fultz maybe not wanting to join the Celtics. There’s a lot less room for error when you’re a young guy on a championship contending team. There are fewer minutes for rookies in those kind of situations, and the development process could take longer than if a player is thrown into the fire from the beginning. This is what makes Smith’s situation so perfect for him.
Unless the Mavs shock the world this year and Smith turns out to be the league MVP, they aren’t going to be championship contenders in the short-term, but they won’t be bottom-dwellers, either. So it’s a happy medium. Smith should, in all likelihood, get plenty of valuable playing time while also playing in meaningful games down the stretch.
All we can do, at this point, is sit back, relax, and hope Carlisle and Smith’s bond is strong enough to keep the rookie out of the doghouse this season. They’re off to a promising start. Now they just have to keep building towards the future.