DALLAS — Entering his rookie season at the tender age of just 19 years old, Dallas Mavericks first-year floor general Dennis Smith Jr. knows he’ll admittedly make his fair share of mistakes during the 2017-18 campaign.
Taken with the No. 9 pick in June’s NBA Draft, Smith will have lofty expectations placed on his shoulders when training camp begins in late September. He will also be asked to immediately step in and contribute, hoping to assume the starting point-guard duties from Day 1. That said, Smith will slide into the lineup and be asked to lead a group of veterans. And with the Mavericks’ coaching preaching to remain stoic at all times, Smith will try to stay even-keeled while learning on the fly this season.
“You know, I’ve got a lot to figure out about the NBA,” Smith admitted last month after competing with the Mavs’ Las Vegas summer-league squad. “This is my first time playing in the NBA, and there’s different rules. You know, I’ve got a lot of things to learn, and the only way to learn is to go out there and make mistakes.
“You know, I’m taking it step by step,” he added. “I’m a guy that wears my heart on my sleeve, and that’s the way I was born. I carry that throughout my whole life, but I’m getting better with it. It’s going to take some time, but eventually I’ll have it down pat.”
Smith more than held his own after his first experience in the Mavericks’ system last month, earning a spot on the All-NBA Summer League First Team. Now, the former North Carolina State standout will try to carry that success over to the regular season and keep his emotions in check while attempting to lead Dallas’ veteran-laden team.
Smith averaged 17.3 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 2.2 steals in six games during summer-league play, leading the Mavs to the semifinals of the tournament and a 5-1 record. He also connected on 45.7 percent from the field and 34.6 percent from behind the three-point line, showcasing his ability to score in a multitude of ways. But according to Mavs summer-league head coach Jamahl Mosley, the young guard had plenty of lessons learned after making mistakes on the court as well. And it’s Smith’s ability not to be deterred by those mistakes that Mosley believes will best serve the Mavericks this season.
“He has the ability to pick up things quick,” Mosley said while praising Smith’s play in Las Vegas. “He has the ability to right away, if something is happening, he figures it out, checks it and then goes to whatever the next process is. He steps into it, which I really think that’s a big thing for a young guy. There was a game where he missed a couple of shots, he turned it over, there was a back-and-forth, and he comes down to the bench with his head down for a couple of seconds. I said something to him really quick, and next thing you know he comes out and makes three plays. Things like that, most guys are in the tank for the next five possessions. He turned it around right away, so that’s tough.
“I think going forward is going to be huge, because of that. All eyes are going to be on him, and he needs to stay the same at all times. I know there’s going to be ups and downs, missed shots and mistakes made. But at the end of the day, he only can control what he can control, and that’s the message I’m trying to get across to him. I really just think he needs to find his identity. At the end of the day, there’s going to be a ton of things we’re going to ask him to work on. But body language, demeanor, how he approaches the game and having a game plan each time he steps on the floor is going to go a long way. Whether he’s with veterans or young guys, him controlling who he is will be huge.”