Dennis Smith Jr. is the face of the Dallas Mavericks’ future. That’s been true since the team drafted him in June. Even though that fact is undeniable, situations haven’t always yielded themselves to his benefit. Perhaps the most noticeable challenge facing Smith is his lack of playing time closing out games. In close games, head coach Rick Carlisle often defers to his veterans, keeping Smith on the bench. In the Mavs’ two recent victories over the Toronto Raptors and Indiana Pacers, however, that wasn’t the case. Smith noticed.
DSJ on being on the floor in crunch time the last two nights: "I've been on the floor in crunch time and we've won both. It's not rocket science"— Mike Peasley (@PeasESPN) December 28, 2017
"I've been on the floor in crunch time and we've won both," he said, apparently laughing. "It's not rocket science."
Smith said this on the radio immediately following Dallas’ 98-94 victory in Indy. As Mike Peasley notes, Smith did indeed say it in jest. But, while not reading too much into Smith’s comments -- no reason to make a mountain out of a molehill --- looking at his clutch stats this season is warranted.
In the back-to-back wins, Smith played a total of eight minutes in the clutch. Clutch situations are defined as the last five minutes of a game in which the point differential is five or less. Five of those minutes came against the Pacers. This is where Smith did all his damage. He scored four points on 66.7 percent shooting and grabbed three rebounds as the Mavs closed out a come from behind win.
In the three clutch minutes he played against the Raptors the previous night, Smith was 0-2 on field goals but was a plus-2. Overall, Smith turned in a total Plus/Minus of plus-10 for the two games. Therefore, maybe he’s on to something with his comment. This is a small sample size, however. While the results are positive and fresh on everyone’s mind, his clutch stats on the season tell a different story.
So far, Smith isn’t a statistical stud in the clutch like teammate Dirk Nowitzki. In 34 clutch minutes this season, he has scored 11 points on 27.8 percent shooting, pulled down five rebounds, and dished eight assists. Smith is also shooting just 20 percent on 3-pointers in the clutch. All of this lends itself to a Plus/Minus of minus-17. If there is one bright point, it’s that he’s only turned the ball over three times.
While Smith’s numbers in the clutch aren’t going to win over hearts and minds yet, these last two games could signal a sea change. Winning does that, after all. They may convince Carlisle to throw his rookie out there in late-game situations not only as a learning experience but also because he has confidence that Smith is a catalyst for winning.
As we’ve seen this season, the Mavericks aren’t going to roll over and quit. They are going to play hard and try to win every night. Now, it looks as though Smith may have earned another notch on his belt: that of a closer. If that’s the case, he can expect to see more time on the floor in close games with the clock winding down. That’s the role of the future face of the franchise and it could be the difference between winning and losing. However, only time will tell.