They were all-in on Smith and even considered trading up to land him. They had him among the top-ranked prospects in the draft and, as owner Mark Cuban said, felt they “got the steal of the draft.”
They weren’t even intrigued when another highly touted prospect, Kentucky shooting guard Malik Monk, became available at No. 9.
It was “Dennis, Dennis, Dennis” all the way, according to Cuban.
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With that being said, here are nine things to know about the ninth overall pick, who isn’t a stranger to the Texas heat. Hey, the only thing remembered from a visit to the Lone Star State during a junior tournament was “I just knew it was hot.”
1. Jersey number. Smith will wear No. 1 for the Mavericks. The previous player to wear that number? 2015 first-round pick Justin Anderson. But No. 1 wasn’t the first choice for Smith.
He asked for No. 4, but that happened to be Michael Finley’s former number. He asked for No. 22, but Rolando Blackman’s number was retired in 2000. No. 5? No, that’s J.J. Barea. No. 3? Sorry, Nerlens Noel has it.
“I said, ‘Man, you all sure y’all called me for Dallas?’ ” Smith said. “Then we found that I could get ‘1,’ so it worked out fine.”
2. Mr. Confident. Four other point guards were drafted ahead of Smith. Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball went 1-2, De’Aaron Fox went fifth and France’s Frank Ntilikina went eighth.
But Smith certainly doesn’t view himself as the fifth-best point guard in the class, or the ninth-best player. He feels he’ll contend for the rookie of the year award, saying it’s “a very obtainable” honor.
He also felt being mentioned as a future All-Star was justified.
“I appreciate it. It’s high praise. I haven’t even played a game in this league yet,” said Smith, who’ll make his pro debut Saturday in the Orlando Summer League. “I’m thankful for that. I appreciate everything that comes my way, and I believe I’m deserving of it because I work so hard.”
3. Max effort. A common criticism of Smith coming out of North Carolina State was that he didn’t play with full effort at times. That is something that Smith and coach Rick Carlisle disputed during his introductory news conference.
There were several factors as to why NC State had an underwhelming season that led to the firing of Mark Gottfried.
“We had a rough year. We lost a lot of games,” Smith said. “A misconception of mine is that I didn’t play hard. I don’t believe that. Nobody at NC State believes that — the fans or the players or the staff. That’s just something I would like (Mavericks fans) to know is that I’m going to come out and give it my all. And play as hard as I can.”
4. Learning D. Part of the effort criticism came about because of Smith’s abilities, or lack thereof, on the defensive end.
Smith acknowledged that his defense must improve, going as far as saying he didn’t know “exactly how to play defense” in college.
“That’s not something that we really pressed about last year,” Smith said. “That’s just the kind of staff we had. We were more offense oriented. That was our team, so we didn’t learn too much about defense. I’m looking forward to learning a lot about it this year. I think that’ll be the main thing is learning how to play.”
Carlisle appreciated that answer and knows defense will be among the biggest learning curves for Smith in his rookie season.
“There’s no player in his situation that comes into this that can be totally prepared to play defense in the NBA,” Carlisle said. “The pace. The strength difference. The speed difference. All those kinds of things. I think Dennis understands that staying on the court to do that you’ve got to be strong in both areas. It’s important to be able to attack the guy who is going to be attacking you on the other end, but you’ve got to be able to guard him too.
“I expect the offensive stuff to happen pretty naturally just based on what I’ve seen on film. But NBA defense is a different metabolic situation and there’s a lot to learn. He understands that.”
5. Injury issues. Smith didn’t blame any shortcomings in his lone college season on a torn ACL that forced him to miss his senior year in high school.
Smith had an illustrious high school career, too, being named North Carolina’s Gatorade Player of the Year as a junior in leading Trinity Christian (Fayetteville, N.C.) to the 1A state semifinal. He likely would have contended for national honors had he been healthy.
But Smith has fully recovered and there are no injury concerns as he begins his NBA career.
“I dealt with the normal things [last year] like shin splints,” Smith said. “That’s the only problem I had. My knee never swelled up. I never missed a game. I didn’t miss any practices, so I felt very well physically. And I felt great mentally. I got a lot of faith in God and I believe whenever you work very hard you gain confidence. I attacked my workouts how I was supposed to, so I was great mentally and physically all year.”
6. Tough questions. The Mavericks grew more comfortable in the days leading into the draft after a FaceTime chat with Smith.
Carlisle said the Mavericks grilled Smith with a variety of questions and that Smith “holds up extremely well to scrutiny. What you see is what you get. He’s a no-nonsense guy who is not a big talker. He’s a guy who really wants to get out there and prove it.”
The effort questions were brought up, and so were the injury issues. And Smith passed with flying colors.
As far as Smith is concerned, he didn’t think they were that difficult.
“I answered most of them pretty well,” Smith said, chuckling. “So it’s hard to say.”
7. Not a LeBron fan. Smith isn’t a fan of LeBron James. Well, at least he wasn’t during the 2011 NBA Finals when the James-led Miami Heat faced the Mavericks.
The Mavericks, of course, won a thrilling series in six games .
“I pulled for the Mavs to win the title in 2011,” Smith said.
“I didn’t want LeBron to win,” Smith said, smiling.
8. Fan of CP3, Westbrook. Smith models his game after others in the league, and has a particular fondness for Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook.
He watches film on each of them and tries to implement parts of their game into his.
“Chris Paul, I like how he plays the pick-and-roll,” Smith said. “He’s super cerebral. He outthinks everybody.
“Russell Westbrook is just relentless. He attacks at every opportunity and he competes on every possession.”
Smith said he is looking forward to going against Paul, Westbrook and Damian Lillard in the Western Conference.
9. PG equals leader. It’s not often that a rookie becomes a respected voice in the locker room. But it happens at times, especially given certain positions.
There’s a reason why Dak Prescott emerged as a leader for the Cowboys as a rookie. The quarterback has that inherent responsibility.
And the point guard is oftentimes referred to as the quarterback in basketball. So, yes, Smith intends to become one of the leaders for the Mavericks even though there are plenty of veterans.
“Part of being a point guard is being a quarterback regardless of what year it is,” Smith said. “You’ve got to come in and lead whether it’s by example or vocally. You’ve got to accept that responsibility.”