30 Teams in 30 Days: Dennis Smith Jr.'s play key to Dallas Mavericks' future
First-round pick faces high expectations as Mavs prep for start of new era
Since the Warriors downed the Cavs to take the 2017 NBA title back on June 12, NBA teams have undergone a number of changes over the long summer offseason.
NBA.com’s Shaun Powell will evaluate the state of each franchise — from the team with the worst regular-season record in 2016-17 to the team with the best regular-season record — as we look at 30 teams in 30 days.
Today’s team: Dallas Mavericks
2016-17 Record: 33-49
Who’s new: Josh McRoberts (trade), Jeff Withey (free agency), Dennis Smith Jr. (Draft)
Who’s gone: AJ Hammons (trade), DeAndre Liggins (trade)
The lowdown: It was a lazy summer for the Mavericks, who saw it come and go without any wholesale changes, not like recent summers when they welcomed free agents Harrison Barnes (in 2016) and Wesley Matthews (in 2015) and distanced themselves further from the squad that won the 2011 title.
Although if you polled the organization, you’d hear that there was indeed a major shakeup, in the form of Smith, their first-round pick.
There are high expectations for the NC State point guard, mostly because he fills a need and because he was solid in summer league play. With Mavericks owner Mark Cuban watching a few games from courtside, Smith dazzled at the Las Vegas Summer League and showed rare poise and control for an incoming rookie at such a demanding position. There’s a good chance Smith could start right away and, at the very least, he should be firmly in the Mavs’ regular rotation.
The Mavericks’ history with point guards isn’t particularly rich. Brad Davis does have his jersey hanging in the rafters but that was mostly because he symbolized the franchise during its beginning stages. Derek Harper followed Davis and became an All-Star and also overcame the stigma of running out the clock while thinking his team was leading a playoff game against the Lakers in 1984.
Jason Kidd got his start in Dallas but didn’t fully blossom until after he left. The same was true for Steve Nash.
Otherwise, the point guards who have come and gone in Dallas haven’t left a lasting impression (although Jason Terry did have moments and helped Dallas win its only championship).
Last season, Dallas made a discovery with G League star Yogi Farrell. He came from nowhere to work his way into the rotation, earn a contract extension and deliver some solid games. He had outings of 32 points against the Blazers and 21 against the Suns and sank important buckets in the final minute. Still, Farrell seems best suited for a reserve role.
Smith fell to the Mavericks in a Draft that was front-loaded with point guards. Therefore, the Mavericks should be thankful Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball and De”Aaron Fox were in the same class. Otherwise, Smith would’ve gone earlier than No. 9.
Meanwhile, Smith is lucky that he’ll go to a team that, while still rebuilding, will surrounded him with plenty of help, making his rookie transition go smoother than if he went straight to a bottom-feeder. Smith will have Dirk Nowitzki around as he enters the 20th season in his Hall of Fame career.
Also, Smith couldn’t do much better than Rick Carlisle as coach. Carlisle even flew to Smith’s home this summer for an extended visit, evidence that not only does Carlisle have big plans for Smith, but also the coach understands the value of making an immediate bond even with rookies.
Finally, Cuban will do whatever an owner can to make Smith’s surroundings as comfortable as possible. In a strictly cosmetic way, that already happened as Cuban reached deep in his pocket to upgrade the Mavericks’ locker room, which was already one of the best in the NBA.
Years of winning regularly with Nowitzki haven’t been kind to the Mavericks’ Draft history. Good finishes mean late picks in the first round, where teams must get lucky for the most part to find a diamond in the rough. The Mavericks haven’t had an impact first-rounder since Josh Howard in 2003. Even the championship team was mainly a mix of players obtained through trades and free agency (Terry, Kidd on a second tour through Dallas, Shawn Marion, Tyson Chandler, etc.). Maybe Smith changes that.
The Mavericks are also setting themselves up for a possible free agent run next summer. There’s no dead weight on the salary cap unless you feel Matthews and his remaining two years at $35 million is a burden. GM Donnie Nelson smartly kept Ferrell, Seth Curry and JJ Barea on team-friendly deals and the big contract given last summer to Barnes, in retrospect, appears to be money well spent. Dallas also won the leverage battle with Nerlens Noel after he didn’t fetch any offers as a restricted free agent this summer.
Josh McRoberts came this summer via a minor trade, too. He has one year left on his deal, but few know what McRoberts has left in the tank after suffering a myriad of injuries the last few seasons.
If Smith delivers reasonably well for Dallas in his first season, then it was a good summer after all — in spite of the light activity.
Coming Next: New Orleans Pelicans
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