Keep this in mind in any exploration of Dennis Smith, Jr.’s rookie NBA season:
None of this surprises him.
Smith believes if the one-and-done rule didn’t exist, he would have fared just fine in a high schools-to-pros leap a year earlier. Instead, Smith – who grew up in Fayetteville – spent one college season at N.C. State before the Dallas Mavericks drafted him ninth overall.
He recently assembled his first NBA triple-double in a road victory over the New Orleans Pelicans. His reaction after that game was more a shrug than elation. He was happy to finish with 21 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, but he did that in Raleigh, too.
He expects to succeed. Now his teammates expect it, too.
“We’ve known that by now,” Mavs future Hall-of-Famer Dirk Nowitzki recently told the Dallas Morning News. “Dennis is an unbelievable competitor. He’s not going to shy down from anybody or any competition. He’s going to keep attacking, no matter who is in front of him. And that’s what we need out of him.”
Smith and the Mavs make their only regular-season visit to Charlotte Wednesday against the Hornets. These teams are in similar situations: playing well below .500, but not in full rebuilding mode. Hornets rookie Malik Monk lasted just two more picks than Smith, but has had little impact in his rookie season. Smith, even in a stellar rookie class, stands out as a keeper.
He has started every game he’s played, averaging 13.8 points, 4.4 assists and 4.1 rebounds. The Mavs just broke a season-best four-game winning streak in a last-possession loss to the champion Golden State Warriors.
“It’s a great feeling, since we won,” Smith said after the triple-double game Dec. 29. “I almost had a quadruple(-double) – I had a lot of turnovers (seven). But everybody believed in me through the mistakes.”
Perhaps the best indicator of Smith’s quick value to the Mavericks is what’s happened this season when he doesn’t play. Through Wednesday’s games, the Mavs are 1-7 with Smith out due to an injury injury, and 12-19 when he plays. While 12-19 is nothing to brag about, it’s clear just how hurting that team is when Smith isn’t available.
As Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said of Smith’s triple-double, “It’s the first of many.”
It nearly wasn’t a first, though. Smith got his 10th rebound late in the game, and there was some question whether, in fact, Nowitzki should have been credited with that board. A week later, the NBA had not changed the final box score, so apparently this will stand.
“What did the stat sheet say? It said I got 10 on there, that means I got it,” Smith said with a laugh. “That’s something I can do. I could have some more in my future.
“It happened in college twice for me. It’s not foreign.”
Bonnell: 704-358-5129: @rick_bonnell