After the Dallas Mavericks' worst season in 19 years, the team had a top 10 pick in the NBA Draft on Thursday night. The Mavericks didn't get cute with their selection, either, opting to stay at No. 9 and select the best player available rather than trading their pick, as they've done repeatedly over the last couple of decades.
While it's impossible to tell whether North Carolina State's Dennis Smith Jr. will have the same impact on the franchise as Dirk Nowitzki (the surefire legend the Mavericks acquired by trading 1998's No. 6 pick, Robert Traylor), Smith will be the most exciting rookie to take the floor for the Mavs this century.
Let's take a look at what makes Smith so interesting.
As a point guard, Smith fills a one of the biggest holes on the Mavericks' roster. While he's a proficient scorer, he's also capable of creating shots for teammates, as he demonstrated in leading the Atlantic Coast Conference with 6.2 assists per game during the 2016-17 season.
Despite missing his senior high school season with a torn ACL, Smith is an explosive athlete. He's got a 48-inch vertical leap and a lethal first step. Although he's good shooter overall, Smith struggled hitting shots off the dribble at times with the Wolfpack. Smith also excels in pick-and-roll situations. When engaged, he can be a plus defender as well. Overall, his game is terrific fit for the Mavericks' fluid offense.
While Smith has all-star upside, questions remain about his durability less than two years off that catastrophic ACL injury. For an NBA player, Smith is small, checking in at 6-foot-3 and just under 200 pounds, leading some scouts to question whether he can adapt to the NBA's physical game. Over the course of Smith's single season in Raleigh, a narrative also built up around Smith's role in the Wolfpack's inability to win with Smith leading the offense. Those concerns seem overblown, however, as the team was in chaos all year, leading to head coach Mike Gottfried's firing in March.
As you'd expect from someone born in 1997, Smith is prolific on Twitter. After his selection last night, a 5-year-old tweet of Smith's went viral and was quickly deleted. It was screen-grabbed for posterity, however, and it's a gem.
Dennis Smith Jr. deleted this quick pic.twitter.com/65Pgi4JqOg— Thomas William (@Thomburger) June 23, 2017
As athletic as Smith is, it's easy to compare him to a current superstar like Russell Westbrook or a former superstar like Derrick Rose. Those comparisons are the dreams of what could happen if Smith puts his injury woes behind him, assuages the questions about his competitiveness and gets the most out of the talent he obviously possesses. There's also a significant chance he could turn out to be a player like Stephon Marbury, an NBA All-Star who still underperformed before leaving the league to play in China. Smith was one of the most talented players in the draft — worth taking a risk on — but is certainly no sure thing.
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