It’s not a surprise that Dennis Smith Jr. is the best Dallas Mavericks rookie in decades. The Mavericks are notorious for not getting much out of the draft in the Dirk Nowitzki era, choosing to flip those picks in trades to try and build a contender around Dirk during his prime.
After the new CBA in 2011, the Mavericks tried to build through free agency, and pushed down their draft picks to preserve as much cap space as possible. Only three Mavericks first-round draft picks (Shane Larkin, Justin Anderson and Smith) from this decade are playing in the NBA right now. The track record is not good.
So, Smith has been a revelation by showcasing eye-popping talent with a willingness to learn. He’s not only the best Mavs rookie in years, he might be one of the best in franchise history, joining the likes of Dirk, Jason Kidd and 80s legends like Derek Harper, Roy Tarpley and Rolando Blackman.
Smith is the most talented rookie since Dirk Nowitzki
This is almost a backhanded compliment -- the list of Mavericks draft picks between Dirk and Smith is a wasteland of busts and failed experiments. Still, Smith is by far the most talented player the Mavericks have drafted in almost 20 years.
It’s no coincidence that Smith is also the highest Mavericks draft pick since Dirk. Devin Harris was drafted fifth overall in 2004, but the Mavericks traded for that pick from the Washington Wizards. In terms of draft picks the Mavs have earned, Smith is by far the most talented and it’s not even close. Not a lot have come with the pedigree Smith has.
Smith is the most explosive guard in the Dirk-era and maybe franchise history
The Mavericks don’t have a big history of explosive guards, with Harris during his first two seasons perhaps being the most explosive of the bunch Dirk has played with.
Instead of relying on a superstar athlete to pair with Dirk, the Mavericks had lots of guards who were more skilled than physically imposing, like Jason Kidd and Jason Terry. Smith is different though and he’s the most athletic guard Dirk has ever played with. He’s also the most attacking guard the Mavericks have had since Monta Ellis played in Dallas a few seasons ago.
Smith’s dynamism in the open floor is breathtaking, going from a jog to a spring in seconds. He has off-the-charts athleticism and will show it off at the NBA Slam Dunk Contest. Smith is fearless going to the basket, almost looking like Derrick Rose, pre-injury.
The rest of his floor game will come, but he’s already a creative passer in the pick and roll, using his speed and burst to create passing lanes that other Mavericks can only dream of.
Smith is the most coachable rookie since Rick Carlisle became the Mavericks coach
This might not seem like a big deal, but when you consider the Mavericks sometimes spotty history with young players under coach Rick Carlisle, Smith’s attitude and personality is huge.
Smith and Carlisle are seemingly cut from the same cloth, even if they have wildly different background. Both are no-nonsense, straight-forward people who don’t take any bullcrap from anyone. That shows in Smith’s fearlessness going to the rim and Carlisle’s, well, sometimes prickly personality.
Carlisle has had his up and downs with a variety of young players, like benching Justin Anderson for most of Game 1 during the Mavericks first-round playoff series against the Thunder back in 2016 and the entire Nerlens Noel saga, which has seen Noel drop completely out of the rotation before he had thumb surgery.
The Mavs and Carlisle have found success with Smith and Yogi Ferrell and both are similar in their work-ethic both in practice and in the film room. Carlisle has taken Smith under his wing, flying out to North Carolina to visit Smith in his hometown shortly after the draft and working with him individually on the practice court and when breaking down tape.
Smith and Carlisle hitting it off is a great sign for the Mavericks moving forward.