The chance to watch younger players expand and develop their skills is one of the few reasons for hardcore Mavericks fans to tune in at this point in the season. For Dennis Smith Jr., a player used to controlling the game, learning to play off the ball has been something of a process. But, he’s come along way since the beginning of the season when he’d often stand in the corner, watching the action.
Still, Smith occasionally encounters bumps in his development, and those seem to happen most frequently when he shares the floor with J.J. Barea.
Smith normally plays shooting guard in these lineups, with Barea at point, but Barea always seems to look Smith off unless there’s no other option. Barea made his career by making a beeline to the basket, but it’s occasionally maddening to watch.
One play from the third quarter of the Mavs’ recent 118-107 victory over the Denver Nuggets really shows how Smith may be getting frustrated with Barea’s tunnel vision. It’s a small thing, but as Barea is bringing the ball up the court, DSJ realizes that Devin Harris is sagging off quite a bit. Smith, who had already scored seven points in the previous three minutes, puts his hands up in the air to call for the ball. He seems deflated when the pass never comes.
The replay doesn’t have quite the same feeling as the live game, but Smith wanted the ball and was on a roll. With the extra space Harris was giving him, Smith was probably thinking he had an excellent opportunity to drive into the paint for two more points.
Smith finished the game last night tallying 18 points, 11 assists and five rebounds, with five of his seven made shots coming in the restricted area.
It wouldn’t be surprising if Smith really were frustrated by being looked off, especially considering his recent comments to Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News:
It’s a big difference for me. Like I said, I’ve been playing point guard for my whole life since I’ve been playing basketball, so it’s a huge adjustment. But I guess that’s where we’re headed to, so I got to continue to work and learn how to play off the ball. Everybody’s saying I’m the point guard of the future — I’m playing the two though, you know what I’m saying? I just got to keep working and learning.
Smith is absolutely right. He must keep working and learning when he’s playing shooting guard, especially alongside Barea. Smith has a lot of potential, but he’s only 20 years old. In a losing season with only a handful of games left, it’s a great time for Carlisle to develop Smith as a multifaceted guard.
However, for Smith to get the most out of that learning experience, Barea should look for the young rookie more than he has so far. It may be against his nature, but development isn’t limited to rookies.