It’s never easy living up to the hype of being a high first-round pick, especially in this day and age. Players are followed since their days in high school and their arrivals to the next level are long anticipated. Only a select few have actually lived up to their hype. But for those that haven’t? They’re still working towards doing so.
Dennis Smith Jr. is a name plenty of fans have known since his days as a five-star recruit in North Carolina. At only 6-foot-3, the soon to be ninth pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, caught our attention via his explosive athleticism which earned him comparisons to the likes of Russell Westbrook and John Wall. Smith spent nearly two seasons with the Dallas Mavericks before landing in New York in the blockbuster Kristaps Porzingis trade. Though he played only 18 games for the Knicks in 2018-19, he showed fans a tantalizing glimpse of the future.
2018-’19 Stats (with Knicks): 18 G, 14.7 PPG (41.3 FG% / 28.9 3P% / 56.8 FT%), 2.8 RPG, 5.4 APG, 13.5 PER
Besides being described as very athletic, another word that comes to mind watching Dennis Smith Jr is “inconsistent.” Even during his first year and a half as a Dallas Maverick, we only saw bits and pieces of what the North Carolina native could do: the occasional 25 and 5, the natural ability to score and be aggressive during crunch time, the viral slam dunks and lay-ups against stunned opponents.
But those moments haven’t translated to DSJ reaching another level with his game. Even with his steadier production in year 2 as a pro, a month-long shooting slump in March (37%/25%/60%) hurt his overall efficiency. Also keep in mind, the 21-year-old point guard dealt with various injuries which kept him out weeks at a time.
Yet, prior to this season’s conclusion, DSJ played well in his return to the court, scoring 25 points in the Knicks’ April 9 victory over the Bulls.
If there’s anything that has to be done for DSJ’s game to reach another level, it has mainly to do with health and improved shooting. This summer should be spent doing whatever is possible, to refine and improve DSJ’s body so he can play close to a full 82 games. Meanwhile, he needs to practice hitting shots from pretty much everywhere on the court, from the 3-point line to the foul line. Smith is still plenty young, however, so there’s plenty of room for improvement.