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Roundtable: What are you watching for with Dennis Smith Jr.?

The second year guard still has much to prove

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Through 14 games into his second season, Dennis Smith is averaging around 14 points, three rebounds, and four assists, numbers which are slightly down compared to last season when Smith finished the season making the NBA All Rookie second team.

Smith’s over all level of play has been fine to quite good at times, mainly because his three point shot has looked much improved in a limited sample size. However, compared to teammate Luka Doncic, the shine has dimmed somewhat due to no fault of Smith’s. That said, Smith’s development is key if the Mavericks hope to take any significant steps this season.

We asked our staff to weight in.

As Dennis Smith Jr.’s sophomore season progresses, what’s the most important area you wanted (and still want) to see him improve on from last season?

Doyle Rader: This is a tough question. Last season, it was more about him learning to play at an NBA level and taking the right steps to understand the offense and be a floor leader--and also to shoot a better percentage. With the addition of Luka Doncic, I think the priorities for Smith change. Instead of being 1B to Harrison Barnes’ 1A, like he was last season, he’s essentially the Mavericks’ third option behind both Doncic and Barnes. What’s worse, he’s frequently not the best point guard on the team, losing minutes to J.J. Barea.

So, this is a complete transformation for Smith in terms of his role. What I’d like to see from him is more decisive consistency. Offensively, he needs to be better at getting to the line and knocking down mid-range shots. In the modern league, those shots may be out of style but players still take them. Smith needs to be better at them. Further, he needs to improve how he sees and reads the floor. Sometimes he looks out of place or disconnected when trying to find teammates, especially in the pick-and-roll.

On the other side of the ball, he just has to play with more emotion and pride. Smith is quick enough to keep guys in front of him--in theory--but the reality is that opponents are eating his lunch. Then, they’re having a picnic themselves in the paint and at the rim. This is one of the major reasons he’s ceding minutes this season.

I expected there to be a sophomore slump for Smith so I’m not disheartened with his play completely. There’s still time for him to work things out. Hopefully, as the team continues to gel, he’ll start to see some improvement in these areas.

John Howe: I just want to see Dennis Smith Jr attack the basket. Relentlessly. He should be in the paint like a young John Wall.

I love that his shooting splits have picked up, but he’s got such gifts that he really needs to attack a ton, struggle a lot, and use those experiences to figure out how to finish strong and draw fouls at an NBA level.

Sam Guertler: All things considered I thought Dennis Smith Jr. had a promising rookie season. He showed flashes of dynamic guard play and was a lot of fun (which obviously doesn’t translate to winning, but still..). The area I wanted to see Smith improve was his efficiency. He chucked up threes at a poor percentage, and it was painfully obvious he needed improve as a shooter to take the next step.

So far he’s done just that. His field goal percentage has jumped from 40 percent to 45 percent, and his three-point percentage has elevated from 31 percent to 38 percent. When the Mavs drafted Doncic, it was clear Smith had to be better in this area since he’d play off the ball more. While it’s been troubling to see him look lost in other areas offensively, it’s encouraging to see him shoot the ball significantly better. Baby steps are important for the 20 year old.

Jordan Brodess: I think a handful of the issues DSJ has had this season can be lessened with one focus: energy. He will never be a lock down defender, but he’s athletic enough to be a pest. Learning how to read NBA play makers will take time, but while he continues to learn, I’d like to see him play with more energy defensively.

And on offense, we’ve seen spurts this season where he has a burst of energy that makes him active on and off the ball. It’s clear he’ll need to adjust to playing more off the ball, and I believe he’s capable of that. But it requires more effort, focus and energy. When he’s had those bursts this season, we see him attacking the rim more and finding an easier rhythm. He has plenty to work on, being a better decision maker, distributor out of the pick-and-roll, and finisher at the rim and in his jump shot. All vital things to improve. But a nice first step would be ramping up his energy and engagement.

Kirk Henderson: This is so hard for me, because I am having a hard time moving past how much better at basketball Luka is than Dennis. And yet Dennis Smith is still such a special player. To start broadly, it would be great if he actually used his best skills on the floor, which means his speed and athleticism. The guy meanders up the floor have the time and I don’t know if that’s a product of coaching or what, but the Mavericks are great in transition and so is Smith. He needs to push the ball and look for easy decisions, be they shots or passes.

Second, he needs to stop seeking out contact and just finish around the rim. I don’t know what he’s shooting around the rim but it’s not good and I bet we all can think of multiple instances where he drives into contact or looks for it on the break and blows the lay up. Stop that. Finish the shot or have a plan when driving.

Finally, I’d like to see him learn how to navigate screens. Dennis acts surprised every time he runs into one and he’s had 80+ games now as a professional to figure some of this out and he still looks like a baby giraffe too often on defense.

There’s something there with Dennis. I believe that. But he has to find ways to show it past some hot shooting.