2017 Scouting Report: Dennis Smith Jr

Dennis Smith JR is near the top of many draft boards among Mavericks fans. Dennis brings a lot to the table in terms of raw talent, but has a lot of refining to do.

Before going in detail, here are Dennis Smith’s college stats (per 40 minutes)

20.8 PPG, 7.1 APG, 5.2 RPG, 2.2 SPG, 3.9 TOPG, with shooting efficiencies of 45.5% from the field overall, 36% from 3, 71.5% from the line, and eFG% of 52% & TS% of 56%. Additionally, his net rating was just +3, with a 112 ORTG and 109 DRTG. His net rating is one of the lowest in the top 10.

Dennis’ strengths are pretty unique, as his main tool is his elite athleticism despite injury concerns in the past.

Strengths

  • Dennis is an elite athlete. There’s no wonder why many fans have fallen in love with Smith through highlights alone. However, he is not just an excellent athlete in the open court. He gets up from a standstill incredibly easily for a guy his size. He can also change direction very quickly.
  • Smith’s driving abilities is his strongest offensive asset. He can penetrate better than almost any other prospect in the class, especially freshmen prospects. Here is a prime example of him getting what he wants attacking the basket. He’s also a surprisingly good finisher at the rim for his size.
  • Smith is at his best in transition. Most of Smith’s highlights come off of fast breaks or in the open court. Smith is at his absolute best in transition- he can find shooters easily or attack the rim with his elite athleticism. Most of the times he impressed me were in the open court, opposed to the half court.
  • 3 point shot shows promise. Supposedly teams have been testing his shooting more than anything else in workouts (according to many tweets), and there may be signs that teams like his shot (I’ll get to that in more detail later). He showed flashes in a few games by hitting multiple threes in a row in comeback attempts. His shot definitely has potential, and if it succeeds, he will likely be a star.
  • Smith can be an effective defender when committed. He has active hands, which led to a high steal total, and when engaged and in form he can be a passable defender.

Weaknesses

  • Smith has one of the lowest motors in the class. There’s a reason that NC State was a disaster this year- no one seemed to care half the time, and Smith is guilty of one of the players that took plays off. He sags off unnecessarily on defense at the perimeter, and on offense will often stand around wanting the ball but making no effort to get the ball besides holding his hands out. Additionally, his attitude and body language were very poor at times, which hurt the most on defense. The lack of a motor and poor body language will be concerning at the NBA level due to other guys simply outhustling him- One example of that. Smith often jogs instead of running, which really kills the mood of the team.
  • Smith’s shot selection is subpar and can be selfish at times. Here is one play where he overdribbles and misses open teammates, resulting in an early in the clock shot and an ill-advised shot. This wasn’t uncommon.
  • His size isn’t that great. He’s 6’3 (have also read 6’2 or 6’1, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt) with only an average wingspan. His frame doesn’t project to help him defensively at all.
  • Smith’s understanding of the game isn’t too strong. He often has Mental lapses and loses track of the situation.
  • Smith has a tendency to disappear from games when transition game is taken away. This was my absolute main takeaway from watching Louisville vs NC State from earlier in the year. Louisville did an incredible job taking the transition game away from NC State, particularly Dennis Smith. This caused Smith turnovers, Smith being benched for short periods, and Donovan Mitchell having an excellent game. It was also one of Smith’s absolute worst of the season. Thus, taking away Smith’s open court athleticism severely lessens his impact in a game. This is why his shooting needs to progress.
  • Lastly, Smith tore his ACL which forced him to miss most of his senior year of high school. ACL history for a player who bases much of his game off of athleticism is a scary investment.

Overall

Smith is a scoring point guard that can play defense without great measurables, but not very consistent. Smith’s motor is subpar, and he takes plays off/ doesn’t do more than he needs to on either end. However, when he is at his best, I don’t see many guys better than him. A sometimes pesky defender that can score in a variety of ways is very valuable. He can play above the rim and uses his athleticism well, making up for his lack of elite size. He doesn’t possess the best jump shot creation skills, but can find an open teammate very easily.  At times, Smith chooses to settle for jumpers when he can take his defender one-on-one to the basket, which for Smith is a bad decision. With Smith’s injury in high school, his game is still raw and behind fellow draft prospects, making him less ready to contribute at a high level right away. However, ACL injuries take time to recover, so there is hope that Smith explodes at the next level once fully recovered. 

One thing that worries me about Smith is his assists. Yes, he got a good assist total and ratio, but there were many times I was watching and noticed his assists came against 2nd units in garbage time or similar situations. I worry that his high assist total isn’t indicative of his playmaking skills, similar to Rajon Rondo (great playmaker, but his assists were empty many times) at the end of his Boston time and in Sacramento. He overdribbles and can be a ball stopper, which is one of the biggest negatives a player can have in the modern NBA. Smith needs to develop a more reliable jump shot and improve his feel for the game in order to be an effective NBA player.

How he would fit with the Mavs:

I don’t think he’d be a fit here at all. Rick Carlisle seems to work best with cerebral players rather than athletic freaks (with some exceptions). Smith works best in an offense that has more fitting transition players than the Mavs (say, the Sixers). Smith isn’t entirely versatile, as he can only play PG and defend only point guards. Carlisle values combo guards, and doesn’t work as well with point guards that struggle to play off ball. Throw in Smith’s poor motor and low basketball IQ, and I think that Rick would rarely play him. As Mavs fans, we saw what happened with guys like Justin Anderson (different position, but still similar situation) when they didn’t try hard enough or made bone headed plays. Taking Smith at 9, should he be there, is a risky proposition for the Mavericks.

However, there is a good chance Smith is gone by the time Dallas picks. DSJ met with Orlando for the 2nd time last week, then bailed on working out with the Knicks the next day. Add that to the fact that there’s probably a good 3-4 teams strongly considering him in front of Dallas, and there’s a very low chance that Smith lasts to nine.

NBA comparison: Eric Bledsoe/ Steve Francis

Projected draft range: Top 10

Unused loops:

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