dennis-smith-jr

Dennis Smith Jr. is a polarizing talent. His high end athleticism and handle is extremely  attractive for a PG who stuffs the statsheet. But his reportedly lackluster intangibles and awful team play has harmed his draft hype, as he may fall to the back end of the lottery in spite of many people believing he is a top 3 talent.

The Talent

Smith is 6’3″ with elite quickness, athleticism, and handle. This gives him an excellent foundation to carry a massive role offensively, as he did everything for NC State. He can get to the rim, finish, pass, and is a competent shooter making 36% of his 3’s and 71% FT as a freshman.

Also he has potential to be a good defensive PG based on his quickness, strength, and good rebound, steal, and block totals.

Smith checks all of the boxes of baseline talent for a star PG, and it is easy to see why piques everybody’s interest.

The Warts

It starts with Smith’s awful team production. On a team loaded with proven NCAA talent and top 100 recruits, NC State was one of the biggest underachievers this past season even though Smith lived up to expectations on paper.

This was coach Mark Gottfried’s worst team in 14 years of coaching at Alabama and NC State, and his worst offense in 6 years at NC State. The only other 1st round pick he has coached during that span is TJ Warren. Gottfried’s offenses normally perform well, and he could barely crack the top 50 with a roster loaded with size, shooting, and athleticism centered around a point guard who projects to be a top 10 pick. That does not bode well for Smith.

Limitations As Floor General

Smith’s problems start with his questionable basketball IQ. Point guard is a cerebral position which requires constant decision making that affects the offense’s likelihood of scoring. He sees the floor reasonably well, but he overdribbles, makes poor decisions with the ball, and often throws off target passes.

NC State posted by far their highest team turnover rate during Mark Gottfried’s tenure, which is the opposite effect that a high volume shot creator like Smith should have. His floor general skills comfortably trail behind his gaudy assist rate.

Can He Perform vs. NBA Defenses?

While athleticism helps players translate to NBA defense, intelligence is arguably more important for small guards who must constantly navigate through traffic. Here is how Smith compares to some of his volume scoring peers based on overall offensive rating, offensive rating vs top 50 teams (per kenpom), and half court points per possession (per synergy):

Player ORtg vs. Top 50 HC Pts/Poss
Tatum 108.8 105.6 0.931
Fultz 113.6 101.2 0.93
Jackson 108.2 108.7 0.926
Fox 110.7 104.6 0.885
Smith Jr. 109.5 94.1 0.862

He is in the middle of the pack in overall offensive rating, but when you take away transition opportunities and weaker opponents he is clearly the weakest link of the group.

Defense

The other problem for Smith is that offense was NC state’s strength. They had a dreadful defense, and in spite of his tools and steal/block rates he projects to struggle on this end. His 6’5″ wingspan prevents him from switching on to most SG’s, and he is incredibly lazy and over gambles and often does not try on defense. He has similar dimensions and effort level to Kyrie Irving, and will often be similarly bad without Kyrie’s offensive impact.

Bottom Line

On paper, Dennis Smith Jr. is definitely an NBA talent and has the ability to rack up points and assists as a pro. The best outcome for him would be that he develops his skill level well and becomes a high volume, moderate efficiency offensive centerpiece who improves his defensive habits enough to be adequate on that end.

Theoretically that outcome is within grasp, but I would bet heavily against it. While he has talent to fill the box score, he has shown poor intuition for making a positive impact on his team. Once you factor in his reputed poor intangibles, he starts to feel like an incredibly shaky bet to fix the many bad habits in his game.

He needs the ball to be useful, and I would not gamble on an average sized PG with a below average IQ and non-elite skill level to run an NBA offense for a winning team. Smith has a solid chance of becoming a good NBA fantasy player, but he is extremely unlikely to make a star impact. The narrative that he is a loser appears to be accurate.

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