The Dallas Mavericks got their guy. With the ninth pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, the Mavs selected Dennis Smith Jr. from North Carolina State.
Coming into Thursday’s draft, it was clear Dallas needed to add a point guard. General Manager Donnie Nelson even acknowledged that fact in a pre-draft statement. And, unlike in previous seasons, he said that the Mavs liked where they were picking and wouldn’t look to move, something they have done in the past. While the team would stand pat, he knew how much was riding on their selection.
“When you’re talking about the lottery, with this kind of depth, you’re not going to see a lot of risk taking,” Nelson said. “This is a building block opportunity that we won’t miss on.”
There were several guards linked to the Mavs before the draft. France’s Frank Ntilikina was thought to be a primary target. A couple of weeks ago, Mark Cuban traveled to Italy to see him workout. Then recently, the Mavs hired his coach to be on their Orlando Summer League staff. Another was Kentucky’s Malik Monk. But leading into the night, they weren’t confident that any of the players they had circled on their board would still be there at nine. However, once the New York Knicks selected Ntilikina with the eighth pick, Dallas was all in on Smith.
“Unlike in some of the past drafts, the guy we really wanted we got,” said Michael Finley, assistant vice president of basketball operations. “And so for us to have a chance to get him at number nine, I think our scouts, and front office, and coaches were excited to have that opportunity to draft him. So when we saw that his name was still on the board with our pick still coming up, I think overall we were very excited.”
It’s shouldn’t come as a surprise why the team is excited. The 6’3” Smith, who is just 19, was an explosive athlete in his only season at N.C. State. He’s lightning quick with great leaping ability, can to get to the rim, draw fouls, and create for his teammates. As a freshman, he averaged 18.1 points, 4.6 rebounds, 6.2 assists, and 1.9 steals. From deep he’s also a threat, knocking down 35.9 percent of his 3-pointers. Because of his physical gifts and style of play, Smith’s game is best suited for a spread, pick and roll-heavy offense like the one the Mavericks run. He seems like a perfect fit for the franchise.
“This is a historic night for us,” head coach Rick Carlisle said minutes after the pick was announced. “[We] filled a great need. Playmaking is such an important part of the NBA game now that having guys like Dennis Smith Jr. that can create simply on their own, let alone pick and rolls and pick and rolls with Dirk and those types of things, is a great blessing for us tonight.”
Beyond what he can do on the court, the team also spoke highly of his attitude, work ethic, and potential role with the team.
“He’s a hit first personality,” Carlisle said. “He wants to be great. He has the ability to have a great impact on our team. Before anybody asks, I think, at this point and time, I would project him as a starter. I’d project him as a starter but he’s going to have to earn it and he understands that.”
That sentiment was echoed by both Finley and Nelson.
“He’s going to be the type of kid to come in and work extremely hard and do whatever he can to solidify as the starting point guard,” Finley said. “But that’s something he definitely has to earn.”
With the Mavericks needs and Smith’s “slangin this wood” attitude and desire to compete, he should have little trouble earning that role. Also working in his favor is the chip on his shoulder.
“I’m definitely motivated by [where I was selected in the draft],” Smith said via phone after he was drafted. “I’ll just use it as fuel to the fire. I’ve been underrated my whole life and that’s perfectly fine with me. I’m accustomed to it. I’m going to go out and be Dennis Smith and nothing can stop that.”
That’s the attitude the Mavs needed coming out of the draft. And that’s the attitude they got.