The Dallas Mavericks May Be Making A Foolish Decision To Give Up On The Talented Dennis Smith Jr. Early In His Career

Updated: January 20, 2019

The 2018-2019 season for the Dallas Mavericks could be described in one word, Halle-luka!!!. The young prodigy was one of the best players in Europe last season and has been able to carry over that same type of magic into the NBA. Despite that, the Mavs have not had much success. Their record is currently 20-25 and they are ranked as the 13th best team in the Western Conference (that sounds much worse than it actually is, the west is ridiculously deep this season) and the Mavs are most likely not making the playoffs. Still, the season could still be viewed (to some degree) as a success. Despite the Dallas 2019 draft pick probably going to Atlanta via the draft night trade that was needed to get them the Euroleague MVP, Doncic has played very well and will be the main player for this franchise going forward. The player that was supposed to be that before Luka arrived, Dennis Smith Jr., has lately been on the news, more accurately in trade talks.

It’s quite alarming that the Mavericks have been exploring trades for the #9 pick in the 2017 NBA draft. Teams are usually more patient with these types of players. After all, Dennis is simply a freak athlete for his position, is tremendously talented, and has shown plenty of good in terms of his skill capabilities. With that good has come plenty of bad as well, but that’s what you expect from young players, especially point guards that aren’t that familiar with how to orchestrate an NBA offense. Dennis is only in his second year, giving up on him right now would be a bit premature, and a potentially foolish decision by a franchise that’s trying to rebuild and become a legit contender. Dennis has all the tools to become a perennial all-star level player and even an all NBA performer. These type of talents don’t come around very often, especially at the spot where the Mavericks got him in the 2017 NBA draft.

On the other hand, the arrival of the Slovenian phenom has most likely changed Dallas future plans. Luka Doncic has been simply terrific this season and has captured the hearts of a countless amount of fans all over the world. He’s already playing at the level of an all-star and was extremely close to receiving the necessary votes that would have allowed him to start in the all-star game. With how successful Luka has been, that has pushed the Mavericks from more of a “let’s wait it out” to a “let’s try to win soon” mentality, which doesn’t really play into DSJ’s advantage. In addition to that, the lineups in which Smith and Luka are both involved haven’t been very fruitful.

The duo of DSJ and Luka has a net rating of [-5.0] in 687 minutes (Source: NBA Net Rating Point Differential Advanced Stat), this means that when Doncic and Dennis Smith Jr are playing on the floor together, they have a negative point differential, in which they score an overall total of 5 points less than their opponents in the 687 minutes they have played together on the floor in the same lineup. Sharing the ball, playing without it, and contributing in other ways than scoring is something that Smith still needs to perfect, especially considering the type of ball dominate player Luka is when playing alongside him. The lineups in which Dennis isn’t on the floor and Doncic is have been relatively successful. In the 659 minutes that Luka has spent on the hardwood without Dennis, Dallas’ net rating is at a [+3.1] (Source: NBA Net Rating Point Differential Advanced Stat), this means that when Luka is not playing with Dennis on the floor. The Dallas Mavericks have a positive point differential, in which they score an overall total of 3.1 more points than their opponents in the 687 minutes that Dennis isn’t on the floor with Doncic.

However, it’s not like Dennis hasn’t tried to change his game and adapt for the good of the team, strides have been made on both sides of the floor. Dennis had all of the freedom in the world over the course of his rookie campaign to dominate the ball and showcase his skills and physical abilities. Dallas was clearly nowhere close to being in a win now mode as the team finished with only 24 wins in his rookie year. In his sophomore year, it’s been a complete 180°. Even though the results have not been all that successful, it’s good that he is at least trying to adjust his game and put his ego to the side. Not a lot of players, especially young ones that have been the #1 player on their teams for their whole lives are capable or willing to do that.

First of all, the three point shooting is looking much better. Dennis is hitting shots from beyond the arc at a more than respectable 37.5 percent clip, a very noticeable increase over last year’s 31.8%. While a pull up from three point land might not be in his arsenal just yet (he has made strides this season, but was abysmal on those shots last season in his rookie year), the catch and shoot three seems to be there already. Dennis is shooting 37% on catch and shoot three’s for his career. If a player wants to adapt to more of an off ball role, he has to make shots off the catch. In addition to that, the usage rate is 6.1% lower, going from 28.9% in his rookie year to 22.8% during this season. Smith embraced more of an off ball role with Luka playing at a high level, and that has helped the 21 year old point guard become more efficient.

Despite having all of the athleticism in the world with solid length, Dennis Smith Jr. was probably one of the worst defenders in the league in his rookie year. As a result, his DRPM (defensive real plus/minus, a defensive performance advance stat) was simply awful with -2.17, a mark which put him 73/80 for the point guard position. This season, while not a world beater with his defense, things have looked much better on that side of the floor. Dennis is still an average defender, but the situation isn’t as bad as it was before. More effort is being exerted, and he’s playing smarter on that end this season. The DRPM numbers back up that claim as well, the number is at -0.65, much better relative to the previous year.

This season has been a tough one for Dennis. From Luka taking the spotlight away from him as the franchise player of the future, to being put in a role for which he didn’t sign up, one that he isn’t particularly interested in at this stage of his career, either. The fit between Luka and DSJ is not a hand in glove situation, everyone is aware of that and it’s much simpler to point fingers at the player that is performing worse, in this case it’s Dennis. There’s the potential that this could change and both of these players would benefit from playing with each other rather than limiting one or the other. That, though, will require time and patience. Smith is far from a finished product and Doncic himself still has ways to go in terms of reaching his full potential.

Are the Mavericks patient enough to do that? History doesn’t says so, Mark Cuban has a tendency to bring new guys in if the previous ones are under performing.

In my opinion, trading Dennis right now is not the wisest decision. The ceiling with him is just way too high to pass on, even if the floor is not very inspiring. The market for him, probably isn’t the best, either. There are a lot of good point guards in the league, only a couple of teams lack one. Those teams are Orlando and Phoenix, both which have reportedly played with the idea of acquiring Smith. The Mavs, however, also want to get a point guard back themselves, something that the Suns and Magic lack and can’t offer.

If Dallas really doesn’t love DSJ, it’s still much better to at least wait for the offseason instead of shipping him now. A lot of contracts will expire in the upcoming offseason, some teams will be left without a point guard and might throw the dice on a trade for Smith. Some team will be patient enough with Dennis, and that might pay off big time. Will that be the Mavericks or some other franchise?

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