To say the Dallas Mavericks are in need of more athletic and explosive scoring guards on their roster is akin to saying that the Cleveland Browns need a quarterback. It is a glaring weakness that, despite their best efforts (see Roddy B and Jared Cunningham among others), they have been unable to fix in the recent past. As a matter of fact, of all the Mavs backcourt players in recent memory, only Monta Ellis (now with the Indiana Pacers) could be considered a truly explosive athlete while also being a capable basketball player.
Obviously, having a dominant rim protector ala Tyson Chandler in 2011 is also something that this franchise is serious need of. And Dallas needs great players, regardless of position. However, this draft is as deep and top-heavy a point guard draft as we have seen in quite some time. There are five or six elite prospects at the position, all of which are projected to go in the top 10, so striking gold on a top level guard prospect is paramount. ... and hopefully doable.
In recent years, the Mavs have gotten by/succeeded with veteran, savvy pros such as Jason Kidd, Deron Williams, J.J. Barea, Raymond Felton, and to a lesser extent, Devin Harris, but acquiring a truly elite level athlete at the point guard position is something we know this franchise covets.
Flash forward to 2016, and that need is more desperate than ever. Harris is a shell of himself, Deron Williams is capable but aging quickly, and J.J., while effective when healthy, has been plagued with injury issues for most of the year. Because of these issues, landing that young star point guard fills a hole.
Dennis Smith Jr. might just be the guy that turns this train around. We thought that going into this week ... and we think it even more now following Smith's spectacular effort on Monday over Duke.
Let's start with some background ...
Standing 6-3 and weighing in at around 200 pounds, Smith Jr. has the size that NBA teams look for in today’s point prospect. He is an elite athlete, and when I say elite, I mean ELITE.
Smith has a lightning-fast first step, and the ability to blow by defenders with ease, whether its off the dribble, or moving without the ball in his hands. The speed and athleticism with which he moves through the open floor with the ball in his hands is something he does better than the rest of this incoming class, to my eye. He also has the ability to jump out of the gym, and make posters out of rim protectors. His ability to finish around the rim is special, and he gets to the free throw line at a very high rate.
Apart from his scoring ability, Smith Jr. is an unselfish player. He is always looking to penetrate and kick, or find the open man and reward his teammates for moving without the ball to an open spot. He sees the floor very well,and plays in control and with patience, especially in transition. Perhaps most importantly, he doesn’t force anything, and is always reading the defense and making smart, quick decisions for his offense.
On the defensive end of the floor, Smith might be the best of the bunch at the point guard position in the 2017 draft. Along with the rest of the guys in this group, like Lonzo Ball, consistent defensive intensity is needed. But Smith can harass opposing players on the perimeter, and he is a strong-bodied, hard-nosed defender when he wants to be. He can also block shots pretty consistently for a guard, thanks to his vertical leap. Smith is also considered to be one of the best floor generals and leaders in this year’s class, which considering the Mavs current makeup, is something that they could really use right now. ... and in the future.
So far this season, Smith averages 19.1 points, 6.2 assists, 4.3 boards, and 2.2 steals per game. He is also shooting 45.3 percent from the field, 37-percent from three, and 74 percent from the line. His season-high of 31 points came January 15 in a home loss to Georgia Tech, in a game where he also tallied eight rebounds, six assists and two steals.
Needless to say, Smith can fill up the stat sheet…
The knock on Smith so far in the draft process has been his outside shooting. It was a similar concern for Derrick Rose and John Wall coming out of college, both of whom Smith has been compared to regularly at this stage in his development. His mechanics have been deemed a bit inconsistent, but those kinds of things can be ironed out, as we have seen with Rose and Wall.
There is also the injury concern with Smith, due to a torn ACL in high school, which forced him to miss his entire senior season. So far at North Carolina State however, he has been injury free, and looked every bit as explosive an athlete as he did before the injury occurred. Were it not for this injury, Smith may have been a threat to be the No. 1 overall selection in this draft, but as of right now, he is still considered a consensus top-five selection come June.
For the Mavs, having a guard on the athletic level of a John Wall or a younger Derrick Rose would go a long way in rebuilding them into a consistent playoff threat. With outside shooters like Wes Matthews, and consistent scoring threats like Dirk and Harrison Barnes, an elite point guard is just what this team needs to begin completing the offensive picture that Rick Carlisle likely has in mind.
In most drafts, a dominant center would be considered the No. 1 overall target for most teams, but the 2017 draft is the year of the point guard, and Smith has a shot to be the best of the bunch. That was our thought before this week. And now?
Dennis Smith Jr. scored a career-high 32 points in the Wolfpack's first win at Duke since 1995.
He is on the radar. He is in the conversation. He is athletic ... in a way the Mavs simply must covet.