Mavericks already glowing about Dennis Smith Jr. following NBA draft

Dennis Smith Jr. hasnt even suited up for Dallas yet, but hes already earning the confidence of a Mavericks legend

Brad Penner—USA Today Sports
Dallas Mavericks player Dirk Nowitzki poses for photos with his Twyman–Stokes Teammate of the Year award during the 2017 NBA Awards at Basketball City at Pier 36.

Back on June 28, 1998, Dirk Nowitzki was traded from the Milwaukee Bucks to the Dallas Mavericks on draft night. Nowitzki was booed after Dallas gave up Robert Traylor for the German wunderkind who would go on to be the best player in the franchise’s history.Meanwhile in North Carolina, Dennis Smith Jr. was still perfecting the art of standing on his own at the tender age of seven months old.But with the Mavs’ ninth overall pick being used on Smith, the two players will now share the court with one another this upcoming season. Though he hasn’t seen Smith up close to this point, he is already lauding Dallas for pulling the trigger on the former NC State point guard.”It’s a great pick,” Nowitzki said. “You can never have enough shooters or enough athletes in today’s game. He brings, obviously, crazy athleticism. And his shot is really good.”Smith is doing much more than walking now. After putting together a stellar season for NC State on a personal level with 18.1 points, 6.2 assists and 4.6 rebounds per game, DSJ was seen as one of the fastest and most athletic guards in the country when he entered the 2017 NBA Draft.The “crazy athleticism” that Nowitzki quipped about was likely centered around videos of his rumored 48-inch vertical jump leading up to the draft. Package his scoring ability and those intangibles all into one package and Smith offers something Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle can’t wait to coach.”Dennis is the kind of guy that we haven’t had here since I’ve been here,” Carlisle said. “His quickness, his ability to attack in space, use screen-rolls and those kinds of things, just from a dynamic athleticism standpoint we have not seen.”If there’s one area where Smith admittedly needs to work to flourish at the NBA level, it’s on the defensive side of the ball. Smith was part of a Wolfpack team last year that was historically bad for the program and ultimately cost Mark Gottfried his job.While he finished second in the ACC last year in steals at 1.94 behind only fellow lottery pick Donovan Mitchell, Smith lacked crucial defensive principles to limit some of the top college players in the country. Even he admits — quite literally — that he has some room to grow in that department.”I want to learn exactly how to play defense,” he added. “You know, that’s not something that was really pressed about last year. And with the staff we had, we were more of an offense-oriented team, so we really didn’t learn too much about defense.”Having the ability to guard NBA players straight out of college is far from a reality, though, according Carlisle.”There’s no player that comes into this that can be totally prepared to play defense in the NBA with the pace, the strength difference, the speed difference and all those kinds of things,” Carlisle said. “But I think Dennis understands that staying on the court to do that means you’ve got to be strong in both areas.”If any player knows about being blasted for his defensive effort, it’s the last No. 9 overall pick for the Mavs in 1998 — Nowitzki himself, after being traded from the Bucks. During his first year in the NBA, the German phenom was given the nickname “Irk Nowitzki” due to the fact that he hadn’t earned the “D” in his name.Now entering his 20th season in the league, Nowitzki has become the face of the franchise Carlisle and Mavericks management hope Smith can eventually become. The 13-time All-Star, 2007 NBA MVP and 2017 NBA Teammate of the Year is more than capable of helping teaching Smith what it takes.”It’s been fun representing this franchise for such a long time,” Nowitzki said. “I’m obviously one of the oldest guys in the league now. When I came in, I was the youngest and the German wunderkind. And the next thing you know, you’re almost 40.”Now I’m there to help and get the younger guys better. Hopefully [Smith will] have a great impact right away for us. We’re all here to help him succeed and be a great player for this franchise for a long time.”