The Dallas Mavericks' season is just around the corner, and players are just about ready to get their seasons started in earnest. One player Mavs fans will keep a close eye on is rookie Dennis Smith Jr. who comes in with a healthy amount of hype, athletic ability, and hope.
It’s clear that the Mavericks have hopes that Smith Jr. will become the face of the franchise once Dirk Nowitzki finally decides to call it quits. As Smith Jr. begins his rookie campaign, here’s a look back at the rookie years of franchise players he’s been compared to the most.
Smith Jr. enters the season as an athletic 19-year old who turns 20 early in the season. He’ll be the same age as Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, and Derrick Rose, and a couple years younger than Steve Francis. All of these players established themselves as franchise point guards.
Note that while Rose came out of the gates strong by becoming the youngest MVP at 22, his career has been derailed by numerous season-ending injuries. Before his knee-related setbacks, he had arguably the greatest upside of any of these players. Also noteworthy is that Steve Francis came into a much different league than the one we see today. Here’s just one example: in the 99-00 season, teams averaged about 14 3-pointers a game, while teams averaged 24 attempts a game last season.
Francis leads the way in points per game with a strong 18 points. That’s probably on the highest end of Smith Jr.’s rookie season potential, considering the number of scorers he’ll be playing with. Westbrook joined a team with Kevin Durant and Jeff Green doing most of the scoring, so if Smith Jr. can average 15.3 a game, that should be considered a great sign.
Paul averaged an impressive 7.8 assists per game. If Smith Jr. was able to do the same in his first year, they’d throw a parade through Victory Park considering Deron Williams led the team last year with 6.9 assists per game. Westbrook, with an already dominant Durant by his side, averaged 5.3 assists a game, another respectable goal for Smith Jr.
Looking over the shooting numbers, fans shouldn’t be too disheartened if Smith Jr. shoots around 30 percent from three-point range. In fact, doing so would place him well ahead of all but Francis. Rose was awful from three but he made up for it with his impressive 2-pt FG percentage, suggesting that Smith Jr. will need to be great finishing at the rim when his jumper fails him.
Smith Jr. is indeed an exciting player, but it’s important to keep expectations realistic. Great point guards don’t have to come out averaging 20 points and 9 assists in their first years. Any combination of stats from these four players would be a strong start for Dennis Smith Jr. Averaging, for example, 15 points, 6 assists, and 5 rebounds a game while shooting a respectable percentage from the field would put him in great company. And hitting those realistic numbers should help the Mavs and their fans feel a lot better about their future.
And just for fun, here are Dirk’s and LeBron James’s rookie year numbers.
Follow Jeff Mapua on Twitter @JeffMapua