Dennis Smith Jr. looks forward to Dirk Nowitzki’s mentorship during rookie season

DALLAS — One player is set to join an exclusive fraternity of players, entering his 20th season with the Dallas Mavericks during the 2017-18 campaign. The other is just beginning his NBA journey, starting his rookie season with the Mavericks after just one year at the collegiate level.

Still, according to Mavs rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr., he and 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki figure to form a bond during the upcoming season while hoping to lead the team back to the playoffs.

Selected with the No. 9 pick in June’s NBA Draft, the 19-year-old Smith admittedly aspires to reach the accolades that Nowitzki already has accomplished in his storied career. Nowitzki ascended to No. 6 on the NBA’s all-time scoring list last season, despite playing in just 54 games during the ’16-17 campaign for his lowest number of outings since his rookie year. He also averaged 14.2 points and 6.5 rebounds in 26.4 minutes per game, connecting on 43.7 percent from the field and 37.8 percent from three-point range while battling a nagging right Achilles strain. Nowitzki, 39, added to his growing list of achievements as well by becoming just the sixth player in league history to reach the 30,000-point plateau, joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387), Karl Malone (36,928), Kobe Bryant (33,643), Michael Jordan (32,292) and Wilt Chamberlain (31,419). And with the 7-footer set to join Bryant as the sole members of the NBA’s 20-year, only-one-team club, Smith hopes to learn from Nowitzki’s knowledge of the game during his rookie year.

“I believe that when two great minds, and I’m not a great mind yet, but I’m looking forward to being that and learning from him. Learning from Dirk, I believe that when two great minds get together success happens,” Smith candidly said during his introductory press conference back in June when asked about teaming with Nowitzki this season.

“It’s going to be hard to explain,” he added. “I haven’t had the chance to meet him yet, and I think after I meet him I can answer that question better. But I’m sure it’s going to be exciting. It will be exciting for both of us, I’m sure, and something new.”

Already the NBA’s top all-time foreign-born scorer, in addition to being the league’s active leading scorer and the longest-tenured player with one team, Nowitzki joined Bryant (Lakers), former Utah Jazz point guard John Stockton and ex-San Antonio Spurs big man Tim Duncan as the only players in league history that have spent their entire careers with one franchise and played 19-plus seasons. Nowitzki also became just the third player in league history to score 30,000 points with one franchise, joining Malone and Bryant on that short list. But while entering the ’17-18 schedule just 1,159 points away from tying Chamberlain for fifth on the league’s all-time scoring list, Nowitzki’s greatest impact on the team this season may come by taking Smith under his wings.

While Smith is certainly a long way from reaching Nowitzki’s heights, he quickly emerged as a rookie to watch after his impressive play during the MGM Resorts Summer League in Las Vegas last month. The former North Carolina State standout averaged 17.3 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 2.2 steals in six games as the Mavericks’ summer squad advanced to the semifinals of the tournament with a 5-1 record. Those numbers helped to earn Smith a spot on the All-NBA Summer League First Team, beginning his professional career in the right direction. That said, the cat-quick guard knows he still has much to learn about the NBA game during his first professional season. And while acting as a sponge for Nowitzki’s knowledge of the game, Smith says he expects to grow under the veteran’s tutelage on a daily basis this season.

“You know, I think it’s a blessing that I landing here, because it’s such a winning program,” Smith explained. “Everybody wants to win, and it’s a selfless mentality. That’s what I’m all about, so it’s a perfect fit for me.

“I’ve got a lot of things to learn about the pro game, ’cause obviously, this is my first time playing in it. And I think I’m taking it all in right now. I’m all ears from the hotel all the way until the game is over, so I’m taking everything in that I’m supposed to.”

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