Lonzo Ball may have owned NBA Summer League, but the rookie who has burst onto the scene most dramatically in the preseason might be Dallas Mavericks point guard Dennis Smith, Jr. Entering Thursday’s visit to Atlanta, Smith had a streak of three games in double digits, including an eye-opening 16 points, seven assists and six rebounds Monday against the visiting Magic. Although he was limited to nine points in 13 minutes, the Hawks’ locker room was abuzz with praise for the young playmaker.
“I thought he made some impressive passes tonight out of the pick-and-roll,” said Hawks shooting guard Kent Bazemore. “He attacked at the right times in transition. He’s a very strong, super-athletic guard. It’s a bright future for him. He’s going to be around for a while and he’s going to be a guy that people are going to have to look out for.”
Bazemore’s backcourt partner, Hawks starting point guard Dennis Schroder, agreed.
“What I saw from him tonight was pretty impressive,” said Shroder after the game. “He’s dynamic [and] really athletic going to the basket.”
Smith was voted by his fellow rookies as most likely to win Rookie of the Year, and was named the steal of the 2017 Draft by NBA.com’s annual GM survey. Expectations for him are sky-high, and a stress reaction injury to projected starter Seth Curry–which may linger into the regular season–has thrust him into an even bigger role.
“He’s an impressive athlete, the way he can get to the paint and his overall command of the game,” said Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer during his postgame availability. “I think they have a good young point guard.”
While praise for his offensive game was universal, it didn’t stop there. Hawks wing DeAndre Bembry–who has made much of his reputation in the NBA as a defender–spent some time matched up with Smith and came away intrigued with his defensive potential.
“He could be a two-way player,” said Bembry. “He can be aggressive offensively, get to the rack [and] find open people. I feel like if he gets the right mindset he can be a pest on the defensive end as well.
“You definitely can see the potential in what he has. He’s as athletic as any point guard in the league, I would say. He makes the right plays.”
Smith Jr. left the game after suffering an ankle injury, but Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle told reporters it appears minor and he may be able to go against the Hornets in Charlotte Friday night.
With Smith and Ball joining Philly’s Markelle Fultz, Sacramento’s De’Aaron Fox, Charlotte’s Malik Monk, and Utah’s Donovan Mitchell among lottery guards making waves ahead of the regular season, 2017 could be a historic draft year. And as much obvious talent as it has produced, Smith could be the cream of the crop. As Bazemore said at Georgia Tech’s McCamish Pavilion, where the Hawks played their home preseason games while renovations continue at Philips Arena, Smith will be a player to keep two eyes on.
“From what I saw tonight, he definitely has a chance,” said Bazemore. “He’s a starting point guard in the NBA as a rookie. That alone says a lot about him and his game. He’ll definitely turn some heads.”
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