NBA Draft Profile: Dennis Smith Jr.
Key Stats: 18.1 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 6.2 APG
Measurables: 6’3, 195 pounds
Strengths: A highly touted and decorated high school player, Dennis Smith Jr., entered the season as one of the country’s top ranked freshman and didn’t disappoint, taking home ACC Rookie of the Year honors. The Fayetteville, NC product, just a year removed from an ACL tear, showed off a tantalizing combination of strength, speed and explosiveness all season long for the Wolfpack. Smith Jr’s biggest strength is his ability to create his own shot. He is a three level scorer and can rack up points in a number of ways from step-backs and pull-up jumpers to runners and fall-away shots in the lane. Smith Jr. is also great at attacking the paint and made over 60% of his attempts at the rim. He gets to the cup seemingly at ease because of his blazing first step and elite leaping ability and converted many highlight worthy reverses and scoop layups. Finishing through contact was also not a problem for the freshman and he went to the free throw line more often than all but 5 other first year players (200 FTA’s). Despite constantly being labeled as a “ball dominant point guard” Smith averaged over 6 assists per game, good for 12th best in the nation. He looks comfortable operating in the pick and roll and draws so much attention when the ball is in his hands, he often times finds teammates wide open for easy assists. Defensively, Smith’s best traits are his size, athleticism and hands. While he’s not a polished defender by any stretch of the imagination, Smith showed a propensity in jumping passing lanes and picking opposing guards’ pockets, good for an average of 1.9 steals per game. And when he does force a turnover, watch out because the NC State product is a blur in the open court and can throw down some eye-popping slams.
Weaknesses: Evaluating Smith’s weaknesses is a little bit tricky because of the situation he was put in at NC State. His supporting cast was not only inferior talent wise, but also relatively inexperienced. Furthermore, his head coach, Mark Gottfried, was fired mid-season, but was allowed to finish the year as a lame duck coach. These two factors make it hard to know just how problematic Smith’s deficiencies are. A lot of reports of a bad attitude surfaced and some media outlets questioned his leadership ability on the court. Smith didn’t help dispel these notions as he too often stood around lethargically on defense and would look disinterested on offense when the ball wasn’t in his hands. Even if you chalk up these concerns to him being thrown into a bad program and situation at NC State, his game isn’t completely foolproof. Smith posted a usage rate over 27% and can over dribble resulting in poor possessions and shot selection. Despite being a good 3 point shooter (36%) he was dreadful in catch-and-shoot scenarios beyond 17 feet and averaged an alarmingly low .439 points per possession here. Finally, he has just a 6 foot wingspan and may never be a plus defender at the next level.
Best Team Fit:
Assuming Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball are the top two players off the board, Smith Jr. will be in play from the number 3 pick on and shouldn’t slide past the Knicks at 8. As a 76ers fan, I would be happy to see Smith head to Philly and become the Kyrie Irving to Ben Simmons’ Lebron James (a lofty comparison I know), but I do have some concerns about his ability to play off ball. Therefore, I believe the best fit for DSJ is with the Sacramento Kings. In Sacramento, he would be given the keys to the offense and franchise and help form a scary backcourt with Buddy Hield. The Kings desperately need a star and Smith needs to go to a team where he can play with the ball in his hands, so this is a nice match. The only issue with this fit is that some of the talent and organizational issues that held Smith back at NC State could crop up again in Northern California.
NBA Player Comparison:
Dennis Smith Jr. may be unlike any other current NBA player and makes this comparison difficult. I’ve seen Smith’s game likened to a lot of retired all-star point guards like Baron Davis, Stephon Marbury and Steve Francis; however I am going to go with a hybrid of two modern players for his comp. Smith is a combination of Zach Lavine (6’5, 185) and Kyle Lowry (6’0 205). Like Lavine he is a top-flight athlete, a plus, but streaky shooter and needs to dribble less and improve his defensive IQ. However, when I watch him play a lot of his moves look like mirror images of Kyle Lowry’s; his step-back J and tendency to absorb contact with his body at the rim in particular. Comparing DSJ to a dunk contest champion and All-NBA talent really highlights just how high his ceiling is, if he can put it all together.