Dennis Smith Jr
Drafted 9th overall in 2017 by the Dallas Mavericks Dennis Smith Jr (DSJ as I will refer to him) was drafted originally to be the heir apparent to Dirk as the franchise player in Dallas. A role the Serbian wonderkid Luka Donic would take the mantle of a couple years later. Since being drafted he’s played in 270 games starting 150 and has played for 5 franchises with his longest stint being in New York, but for the Knicks. Coming into the draft he was taunted as a shifty explosive guard who could attack the rim at an elite level. This is based on his 6 '2 frame, 6' 5 wingspan and 8 '1 standing reach and in college finished with an amazing 61% FG rate at the rim. His ability to attack the rim and apply pressure was seen as his biggest strength similar to Derrick Rose or Ja Morant; however it was counter acted by his inability to shoot the ball at an efficient level for a guard, and his ability to run a team effectively as a playmaker. Once drafted to the Dallas Mavericks he would butt heads with the coach at the time Rick Carysle and eventually be traded in the Kristaps Porizngus trade. During his time in Dallas we saw the potential every now and then with explosive dunks, exciting crossovers and some thrilling passes but he never stuck. His career averages would follow:
14.5 PPG - 4.9 Reb - 4.9 Assists - 2.9 TOV - 1.1 Stl - 40/32/69
8.7 PPG - 2.4 Reb - 3.7 Assists - 2 TOV - 1 Stl - 37/28/55
7.3 PPG - 2.7 Reb - 3.7 Assists - 1.7 TOV - 1 Stl - 41/35/70
5.6 PPG - 1.8 Reb - 3.6 Assists - 1.4 TOV - 1.2 Stl - 42/22/65
8.8 PPG - 3.1 Reb - 4.8 Assists - 1.5 TOV - 1.4 Stl - 41/21/73
Now as far as his career numbers look on the traditional box score it’s…. Not inspiring. It shows his lack of offensive polish no matter how you look at it, now if we get more specific we could show that he’s above league average at finishing at the time for his position. But, regardless of how you slice it, DSJ has been an inefficient scoring and playmaking point guard so far in his career. However we are going to zero into his last season in Charlotte. This will be the best indicator of how he will impact the Nets this upcoming season.
Now let's talk about offense (this might not take long). Last season the Nets had the following offensive numbers:
Rating - 115.9, TS% 59, EFG% 56.2, a 3 point tendency of 39.7% and a TO% of 12.
How does that stack up to the NBA? The averages in the NBA are:
Rating - 114.8, EFG% 54, and a TO% of 12.5.
Based on that information we can assume the Nets had an above average (Albeit slightly) offense last season. Now, this was skewed slightly due to the KD and Kyrie Irving trades, however the offense did not drop off MASSIVELY.
The problem we are going to have with DSJ is purely offensively this season he has no clear indication as to where he can help us on offense. However I think there are two areas we can utilize DSJ on offense to a positive. The Nets ranked 11th in 3 point reliance for last season, which if was purely based off post trades would have likely been even higher as we shifted away from a mid range heavy offense towards more 3’s. Now DSJ cannot shoot 3’s but as stated above he is above league average as a finisher inside the paint and he takes the highest portion of his shots inside the paint. This is a purely observational point as I could not find the stats to back this up, but after the trades the Nets struggled in isolation to get into the paint for shot creation. Having someone with a serious motor, and an elite finisher inside the paint is going to be a plus offensively for the Nets.
The last positive for DSJ offensively is last season he was top 10 in drive assist rate. Meaning when he drove it was creating the 10th most assists in the league. He was on the list with Halliburton and CP3. So although as I’ll state in a moment DSJ does not have good traditional assist numbers this one specific area could be a huge boom for him to crack this rotation consistently.
His in the paint finishing is really his only positive offensively for the Nets. Outside of that he is a poor shooter, and does not have amazing assist % numbers. That being said he did have games in Charlotte where he had that pop and could finish with some serious statlines. JV is going to have to give him some leash as he will likely have the most up and down scoring nights out of anyone on the team.
All of DSJs real value to this team is on the defensive side of the ball. First let’s talk about his negatives before I wax lyrical about him. He’s short, he’s really short to be in a switch heavy defensive scheme. However, does that mean he’s going to be a bad defender? NO, in fact hell fucking no. It just means he has one real weakness. There are going to be games where Tatum switches onto him and drives him into the paint and we struggle with it, but that’s life and no one is perfect.
Now let’s talk about positives cause there are plenty!
First off statistically
DSJ has the following stats on the defensive side of the ball (In Charlotte):
Steal rate of 2.6%
Defensive win shares of 1.5
Defensive plus minus 1.2
Box plus minus -2.2
Now those stats might not mean a lot looking at them but I’ll dive into it. Ben Simmons (At his peak one of the best defenders in the NBA) had a steal rate of 2.4% which is below DSJ.
He added 1.5 wins defensively to his basketball team, now keep in mind this was for Charlotte who were 27-55 last season with the 4th worst record in the league. So being positive on either side of the ball for a role player is very impressive.
He added 1.2 defensive points above the average defender in the NBA last season. NOW you again are probably thinking what really does that mean…. Well that means he was one the better defenders when you compare him to an average player at taking away points from the other team. Just for reference, DSJ was the 2nd best player in the league last season based on DPM and that is a list where Caruso was 1 and had Draymond Green, JJJ, AD, Claxton (9th very tasty Clax), and OG Anunoby on it.
He had a -2.2 box plus minus, now this means he was overall a negative player. But, again this was for the 4th worst team in the league, so if you can get close to neutral with your box plus minus that means on a good team in theory that should shoot up.
Last season the Hornets had a top 6 defense after February 14th. This was when DSJ began playing heavy minutes, and when they started using Mark Williams as their starting centre. DSJ this season will likely share most of his minutes with Claxton, a much better defensive centre then Williams.
So what does this all look like for the Nets?
DSJ will likely play a key bench role and be the main point of attack defender when he plays. Offensively he should never, or minimally share the court with Ben Simmons. The offense just clashes far too much. However, I think if you run the following lineups DSJ can really excel:
DSJ, Thomas, Bridges, Smith, Claxton,
DSJ, Bridges, Johnson, Smith, Claxton,
DSJ, Dinwiddie, Johnson, Royce, Claxton.
These lineups can excel mainly due to the defensive versatility. You can switch easily and cover for each other, AND run a zone ( :) ). But, DSJ also runs cover for Spencer and Thomas in these lineups as those two are probably the worst defenders on the Nets currently.
I’d also expect DSJs minutes to vary greatly on a night to night basis, and correlate to Simmons ability as a player and ability TO play. I would slot him into that 7-9 man role and get him around 12-25 minutes a night. Again, that number has to vary so much due to our roster and the fact we have some guards ahead of him that make more sense to play higher minutes.
Great example of his athleticism, he jumped from a good distance and could have easily finished this amazing dunk.
Similar to the highlight above, but this time he finished it. I mean this is a Ja Morant like dunk here my goodness.
Good example of a game where if he’s got it going on offense he does have the tools to make things happen. Finishing in the paint effortlessly, making some nice jumpers in rhythm and then assisting off his drives.
Harder to find defense highlights but these are great examples. He reads the game so well, gets into bodies, times his pokes and just overall showcases great ability on that end. I loved how he got into CJ and Trae.
Lastly just some fun highlights to get you excited about DSJ as a player!
DSJ is exactly what the bench needs. A defensive focused guard who on the right night has offensive upside. Considering our guards are the weakest defensive position, bringing in DSJ was a no brainer from Marks. The only worry I have really is the minute consistency, how he works in a switch heavy system, and the fit with Simmons and Claxton. But, as a buy low opportunity that does not hurt our salary cap much if at all, DSJ was an easy no brainer. And, he is going to be a quick fan favorite without a single doubt in my mind.