Mavs are grooming rookie Dennis Smith Jr. to be ‘cornerstone for franchise’

2017 Media Day: Dennis Smith Jr.

Dennis Smith Jr. looks ahead to the 2017-18 season with Mark and Coop.

DALLAS — Although the Dallas Mavericks admit that they won’t place too much responsibility on point guard Dennis Smith Jr.’s shoulders early in his first season, coach Rick Carlisle and the team’s veterans will attempt to groom the team’s first-round draft pick into a cornerstone for the franchise throughout his rookie year.

Opening up training camp Tuesday prior to beginning the 2017-18 schedule at home against Atlanta on Oct. 18, the Mavericks will try to bounce back from a 33-49 campaign last season. In order to do so, Carlisle is hopeful the Mavs can hit the ground running with Smith in the starting lineup. Still, according to the coach, it’s important that fans and the Mavs’ veterans understand that Smith will go through his fair share of growing pains this upcoming season.

“I understand the level of excitement, and people should be excited. You know, this kid is going to show really some amazing things that we haven’t seen at the point guard position ever with this franchise. That said, this is a learning process,” Carlisle said Monday while addressing the Dallas media. “On Draft Night I projected him as a starter, and my plan at this point is going to be to start him. And so, you know, that’s a lot of responsibility, but he needs to learn quickly. The best way for a guy like him to learn quickly is to be thrown out there and be put in a position to have to do it. He’s a competitor and he’s a prideful kid, and he’s serious about this.”

Spending just one year at North Carolina State before entering the NBA Draft, the 19-year-old Smith became the first player to lead the ACC among freshmen in points and assists since Ed Cota during the ’96-97 season during his lone collegiate campaign. He also filled up the stat sheet last season with the Wolfpack while averaging 18.1 points, 4.6 rebounds and 6.2 assists, connecting on 45.5 percent from the field and 35.9 percent from behind the three-point arc. But according to Smith’s veteran teammates, the rookie may just be beginning to tap into his full potential.

2017 Media Day: Rick Carlisle

Rick Carlisle looks ahead to the 2017-18 season with Mark and Coop.

Smith averaged 17.3 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 2.2 steals during six games of the MGM Resorts Summer League in Las Vegas back in July, earning a spot on the All-NBA Summer League First Team while leading the Mavericks to a 5-1 record. In doing so, the cat-quick guard earned the praise of his peers within the rookie class. He’s now quickly impressed the Mavericks’ veterans during pick-up games in Dallas, according to 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki and leading scorer Harrison Barnes. That said, the Mavs’ veterans fully expect Smith to come in and have an immediate impact on the team.

“I’ve seen Dennis now the last few weeks scrimmaging a little bit in the gym, and I’ve rarely seen an athlete like this at the point guard spot,” Nowitzki proclaimed. “He’s just freakish when he goes down the lane and how easy he goes. You know, he just pushes off his calves a little bit, and next thing you know he’s at the rim. He’s just really quick, really explosive, and he’s actually a decent passer. He’s a good decision maker already at that age, so I think he’s going to be hopefully a cornerstone for our franchise for a long, long time. He’s going to be fun to play with and he’s going to be fun to watch for our fans for a long, long time. But you know, as I always say, rookie years sometimes are tough. You’re going through stretches were the games just keep coming, and at times you may seem overwhelmed. You’ve just got to fight through those times. And if he does, the sky is the limit. I mean, he’s explosive and he’s got all the tools, so I’m looking forward to him hopefully having a long, long career here.”

“I think he has the ability to play bigger than his position,” Barnes added. “From his ability to rebound and block shots in transition, his ability to switch on guards and not be overpowered, I think those are good attributes that allow him to handle the rigors of the league. We’re going to be trying to do more switches this year, and he will help us be more successful.”

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