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Dennis Smith Jr. is doing all the right things to improve his jump shot

He struggled during his rookie season, but some of the best shooters have been there.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Cleveland Cavaliers Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

By all accounts the biggest key to unlocking Dennis Smith Jr.’s full potential relies on the most fundamental aspect of basketball—a jump shot.

During his rookie season, Smith Jr. shot 39.5 percent from the field, 31.3 percent from three point range, and 69.4 percent from the free throw line. From all three levels, those are not good numbers. No one in the NBA shot that poorly across the board with the kind of volume Smith Jr. was given last season (14.8 field goal attempts per game). The only player that came close last season was Lonzo Ball who shot 36 percent from the field, 30.5 percent from three, and 45.1 percent from the line on just 10.8 field goal attempts per game.

Smith was given a lot of opportunity to take a ton of shots last year an adjust to the NBA quickly. Last season missed shots were fine — the Mavs were a young rebuilding team. But this year, if the Mavs want to make a run at a playoff spot, Dennis Smith Jr. needs to improve as a shooter.

Rookie struggles

Smith and Ball aren’t isolated cases; seemingly every rookie point guard struggles. The last time a rookie guard hit more shots than they missed was in 1990 when Sarunas Marciulionis shot 51.9 percent from the field for Golden State—he was 25 years old and had been playing professionally in Lithuania for years. (Minimum of 400 attempts).

Some of the best players in the game also struggled during their rookie seasons. John Wall, Russell Westbrook, Kemba Walker, and Jeff Teague all shot under 41 percent from the field and 31 percent from three point range during their rookie seasons and all went on to become above average shooters, All-Stars, and MVPs.

Rookie Year Shooting Percentages

Player FG% 3P% FT%
Player FG% 3P% FT%
Dennis Smith Jr. 39.50% 31.30% 69.40%
Kemba Walker 36.60% 30.50% 78.90%
Russell Westbrook 39.80% 27.10% 81.50%
John Wall 40.90% 29.60% 76.60%
Jeff Teague 39.60% 21.90% 83.70%

What affects a rookie’s shooting percentage?

Decision making, team responsibility, and a further three-point line are just a few of the factors that can affect a rookie’s shooting percentage. Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle believes that halfway through a player’s rookie season they should be adjusted to some of those factors.

If you really want to look at it more accurately I would look at Kemba’s numbers the second half of his rookie year and Dennis’ numbers his second half of his rookie year. I think that’s a better study because after getting 41 games under your belt you’re going to be better. You’re going to be making more shots and there will be a difference.

However, in most of the cases we’re looking at, quite the opposite happened.

Smith, Walker, Wall, and Westbrook all shot the ball worse in at least two categories during the back half of their rookie seasons. Teague improved, but he was starting at the lowest point out of all these players. If these numbers paint a broader picture, improvement for Dennis Smith Jr. may not come simply from getting adjusted and used to the NBA.

What it takes to make the jump

A lot of players talk about the game slowing down for them and that helping their decision making but according to Walker no amount of adjustment beats putting in the work. Kemba Walker spoke about Smith last season on what it would take for Smith to improve:

“More reps, a lot of repetition…I think he’s pretty similar [to me] because he’s a scorer. He’s a scoring point guard, he’s a guy that can do both—he can definitely pass but he can score as well. that kind of stuff comes when the game slows down and he starts to see things differently. Like I said I think it’s more reps than anything.”

And according to Rick Carlisle, Smith is putting in the work to improve his jump shot.

“But I like where Dennis is at we had a shoot around today and he came in and worked his butt off on situational stuff on skill refinement, stuff like that. He’s getting better all the time.”

In fact, there were reports this summer that Smith was working with Drew Hanlen, who famously has helped Stephen Curry, Joel Embiid, and Jayson Tatum with their shooting.

Looking forward, Dennis Smith Jr. is putting in the work to improve his jump shot — and as the game slows down, his decision making should improve. He’s been seeking professional help, and he’s never lacked the courage to take any shot. He has all the elements of improving his shooting percentages like all of these elite players have. But now it’s time to put all the talk to the test and unlock his true potential.