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In the aftermath of the shocking trade that sent Kristaps Porzingis to Dallas, Dennis Smith Jr. has produced a pair of thrilling, high-scoring games: back-to-back 25 and 31 point outings against Detroit, a top 10 defense. As the only long-term prospect New York acquired in the deal, Smith's continued development is fundamental to the Knicks' success. So how's he doing?
Unlike his time in Dallas, Smith has a chance to run a team, with all the complexities that come along with it. How he handles that responsibility will be key, because in this league, if you’re not an elite scoring guard and you can’t run your team, you slot yourself right into a bench role.
Offensively, Smith is a scoring guard, a “volume shooter.” He'll get his shots up, don't you worry, but they won't always be great looks. For his career, Smith has exactly one game with 20 points on fewer than 15 FGA. Poor shot selection generally leads to inconsistent play, which is how you go from 31 points one night to 13 points on 4-for-17 shooting the next.
Smith does have a really good ability to beat defenders off the dribble, and is not afraid to get to the rim and finish over defenders. He believes he’s going to make something happen if the ball is in his hands. But he needs to develop a plan.
The best guards in this league set defenses up for what they are going to do. They slow the game down, know how to use screens and both read and manipulate defenses. Smith isn't there yet. He tends to make up his mind before a play even begins, coming off the pick-and-roll and pulling up or overpenetrating no matter what the defense is doing. He will have to learn how to change speeds to avoid over penetrating and forcing himself into a pass or finish that isn’t there.
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