The buzzer sounded at Kaiser Permanente Arena in Santa Clara, California on Thursday night. The Sioux Falls Skyforce, the NBA G League affiliate of the Miami Heat, had just seen their five-game win streak snapped, 126-103, at the hands of the Santa Cruz Warriors, Golden State’s affiliate. They’d get their revenge the next day — sans the help of one player.
Guard Dru Smith started the game for Sioux Falls, tallying 15 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists in 32 minutes of action. The next morning, Smith received a call from the Brooklyn Nets’ brass. He was being signed to a Two-Way contract with Brooklyn, a spot that opened up just a few days before.
“They were just excited [and] broke the news to me,” Smith told NetsDaily.
The Nets would officially announce the signing just two hours later and Smith was on a plane headed East shortly afterwards. On the plane, Smith spoke with one of his two new coaches — Long Island Nets head coach Ronnie Burrell. Being a Two-Way player, Smith will bounce between NBA and G League clubs, seeing action in Long Island he wouldn’t otherwise get in Brooklyn.
Burrell told Smith on the plane that he’d receive a playbook soon and that he’d be featured as a point guard in Long Island’s offense, getting his players involved. Long Island employs only one true point guard on the roster other than Smith, in Burrell’s eyes: Chris Chiozza. “At the end of the day, it’s just basketball,” Smith remembers hearing. “I’m going to figure it out.”
He lands in New York late Friday night and checks into the downtown Brooklyn hotel the Nets have provided. On Saturday, he’ll be playing his first game with the organization in Long Island.
After passing his physical, the 25-year-old heads out to Long Island for shoot around with the G League club on Saturday; there’s a matchup with the Grand Rapids Gold, the affiliate team of the Denver Nuggets, that evening.
Burrell won’t be starting Smith right away. “He seems like a high IQ guy who will be able to pick up our stuff easily,” the coach says, but the guard will get his feet wet to begin with low-expectations. How much will he play? “Whatever he gives me,” Burrell says. “No pressure on him, I just want him to feel comfortable today and see what he can do.”
After a first half marred with missed layups, Smith began to find his range in the third quarter against Grand Rapids, nailing three triples. He finished with 13 points and a team-high six assists, involving his teammates throughout the evening.
“It kind of took that first half to knock that flight off,” he joked post-game. “But [I] was just trying to find my rhythm, getting used to playing with all the guys. I think eventually you just kind of get back to playing basketball.”
Once the fourth quarter rolled around, Burrell couldn’t keep his newest player off the court. Smith played in the closing lineup and helped lead Long Island to victory against the Gold. “He showed throughout the game that he was picking everything up so fast,” Burrell noted.
One component of Smith fitting in well with the Nets’ G League program early is the presence of assistant coach Travis Voigt on Burrell’s staff. Voigt was previously an assistant coach with the Skyforce, someone whose presence Smith had become accustomed to over the past year. Sure enough, the two went through pre-game warmups together, with Voigt traveling around the court with Smith as her prepared his jump-shot from various distances in the half-court.
“We have a great relationship .... We were all sad to see him go last year, But I mean, it’s great to reconnect with him,” Smith explained. “He’s really good at working with point guards. Working on the pick and roll, different reads, all that stuff.”
Smith spent time in Sioux Fall, South Dakota — where there isn’t much to do besides some Topgolf — for the Skyforce, but also fondly remembers his time around the Heat in pre-season and most notably, training camp in Cancun. The Heat organization has built a reputation for developing undrafted talents such as Smith, who looked to follow in the footsteps of teammates Gabe Vincent and Duncan Robinson.
Another player Smith learned a lot from observing with the Heat was point guard Kyle Lowry, being both relatively undersized guards. Smith noticed how Lowry leverages his body in a way to use opponents’ weight against them on defense.
A defensive identity is a key component to Smith’s game, who tallied three steals and a block in his Nets debut. “I‘m always going to compete on the defensive end, just do my best to get stops, to be in the right position, just try to make winning plays on that end,” he described his game. As a Heat two-way early in the season, Smith played in five games for the Heat, starting once and scoring five points vs. the Hawks.
In Brooklyn, he’ll be able to learn from stars such as Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and Ben Simmons — who he shared the court with the next day. On Sunday, Smith was back with Brooklyn on the bench for Nets vs. Thunder. Before the game, he finally met his NBA head coach, Jacque Vaughn.
The Nets lost the game to OKC in unceremonious fashion with Smith on the bench, but the newest Net had begun his journey. A full three days removed from that night in Santa Clara, he had completed his first two full days with the Nets organization.
Like any two-way player, Smith ultimately dreams of earning a full NBA roster spot — hopefully in Brooklyn, he says. But for now, he’s just focused on day-by-day improvement to become a better player.
“I think as I continue to do that, and all the other things will come.”