Last season, Dennis Smith Jr. had the most successful rookie year of any Mavs draft pick under Rick Carlisle. Most rookies get buried at the end of the bench and have to fight for playing time. Smith didn’t have to.
Carlisle’s reputation for being hard on rookies is well-documented, as is his history of being hard on point guards. But because Smith was the most important Mavericks draft pick in a while, he was given the reigns to run the offense and allowed to work through the learning curve without fear of being benched.
Growing pains were there, to be sure: the 24-win Mavericks offense ranked 28th in points per game. The bulk of the offense ran through Smith and his 28.7 percent usage rate was the highest on the team.
With the addition of Luka Doncic, Smith’s usage rate is likely to take a fairly decent drop off. Not only will Doncic’s addition bring changes on the court, it will change how the franchise, the fans, and the media treat Smith. He’s no longer the face of the future or the best young player on this team.
How Dennis is able to deal with that adjustment will play a big role in determining how he fares this season.
Now that Dallas has a secondary ball handler for the offense in Luka Doncic, Dennis Smith Jr. will spend more time this season off the ball. Last season, Smith struggled at times when put on the floor with J.J. Barea, looking lost without the ball in his hands.
Though he struggled some in this role, Smith’s three pointer did shine more in catch and shoot opportunities (38 percent) than it did elsewhere (31 percent overall).
Last year’s offense came largely from Smith being asked to create and Harrison Barnes one-on-one isolations. That offense stagnated and didn’t get everyone involved like most Rick Carlisle offenses do. This season during training camp, players and coaches have spoken about how much more movement this offense will have and how it gets all the players involved.
If Dennis Smith Jr. is going to take the next step forward, his ability to be effective off the ball on offense will play a huge part in his development.
Best case scenario
In the best case for Dennis Smith Jr. this season, his work this off-season to get better working off-ball pays huge dividends. His numbers take a decent uptick in terms of scoring but the efficiency numbers improve dramatically.
During the off-season, Smith worked with Stephen Curry’s development coach on his shooting and dribbling. If he could become an average to above-average shooter it would open up the offense in a number of ways.
Defensively, seeing Smith make improvements on staying in front of the more elite point guards in the league would be icing on the cake.
Worst case scenario
Luka Doncic comes in and becomes a better playmaker than Dennis, forcing him into a role as a secondary creator. Last season’s woes for Smith playing off the ball continue causing him to stagnate as a player in his sophomore season.
The worst case scenario for the Mavericks sees Smith stay a below average shooter and limits his offensive game as a secondary facilitator.
Even if the worst happens, Smith will still be a solid offensive player with good instincts and incredible athletic abilities. All the ingredients are there for Smith to take a big leap this season. He’s surrounded with two good shooters, an excellent rim-rolling lob threat, and a 6’8” preternatural passer on the wing.
Year two will be a telling year for Dennis Smith Jr. to see his fit with this revamped team and how big a jump forward he can make in 2019. Mavs fans should get excited for Smith’s progression this year because they’ve seen Dennis knows how to take a big leap.