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Dennis Smith Jr. getting noticed as training camp begins

Once a 19-year-old rookie

Dennis Smith Jr. is all the rage at HSS Training Center. The 6’2” point guard has been singled out more than once in recent days as someone who will exceed expectations, who’s opening eyes, turning heads.

“I think Dennis Smith would. He will turn a lot of heads,” Nic Claxton said in a tweet last week.

“He’s looked really sharp so far. And especially, because I like what he can on the defensive side of the ball ... He’s from North Carolina, he’s from South Carolina so obviously I’ve been in tune with everything he’s done throughout his career. But now, he’s had to find his footing in the league and I think he’s done so.”

Sean Marks had similar things to say about Smith in his interview with the YES Network at Media Day Monday,

“Dennis has definitely one of the bright spots here. You always hear about how a player is, then you get him in your building and wow, he really is that,” Marks said. “A ferocious competitor. He’s the loudest guy in the gym, holding everyone accountable. I love that about him. It’s okay to be a little uncomfortable.

“He is going to push the group. And defensively, you saw what he did last year. picking up full court, turning guys, being a disruptor. That’s exactly what we need.”

And Tuesday, the Nets tweeted out a short video in which Smith was seen leading teammates in wind sprints and tossing a lob pass to Dorian Finney-Smith...

Although a veteran, Smith is still only 25 years old. After being taken at No. 9 in the 2017 NBA Draft, he had a solid rookie season in Charlotte — averaging 15.2 points and 5.2 assists before being sent to the Knicks in the Kristaps Porzingis trade the next season. But for a variety of reasons, including injury, his game fell off and he hopped from New York to Detroit to Portland where he was waived in favor of a rookie, Trendon Watford, now his teammate. Before signing with Charlotte a year ago, he seriously considered trying out for an NFL team. but the Hornets invited him to camp and he wound up having a rebound year, averaging 8.8 points, 4.8 assists and 1.4 steals in 26 minutes a game.

Although he said he had better offers than a one-year vets minimum deal he received from Brooklyn, he decided he’d sign with them in part because of the fit, he said Monday at Media Day. He even recounted the moment when he first thought of joining the Nets ... while watching the 76ers sweep of the Nets last April.

“Me and my boys were talking, and we were like, man, the things they need on this team I could really help out with and the things I got in my game will help these guys on the team,” he told Bob Lorenz and Frank Isola during the YES Network broadcast of Media Day. “Kind of like a hand-in-glove fit.”

The feeling was mutual and the Nets made him their No. 1 priority in a not very aggressive free agency. Although the contract was only a minimum deal, it was the first time in the last three years that Smith has had a guaranteed deal in training camp.

At this point, it looks like he looks like the Nets back-up point guard, part of a four-guard grouping that includes starter Ben Simmons, combo guard Spencer Dinwiddie and shooting guard Cam Thomas. He could also be a specialist coming off the bench to cool some hot shooting by the other team’s backcourt. He is not a shooter, however. Smith sees his strength as his uniqueness.

“I got a skillset that’s different from most guys on the team,” he said. “So, the team could use that and my skillset could use players that are already on the team.”

He also likes what he sees in Jacque Vaughn.

“He’s super high energy, super. He gets into the drills. He’s hands-on. He thinks he can still guard,” said Smith, who added, “He does a great job of building a relationship with you. You know what they say, no rules without a relationship equals rebellion. So he builds a relationship so that way he can be tougher on you.”