Dallas Mavericks rookie Dennis Smith Jr. has the talent and physical tools to become a standout in the NBA.
But right now, it’s about incremental improvement for the point guard selected No. 9 overall out of North Carolina State in June. He improved in playing with pace after his preseason debut this week and during Thursday night’s 112-89 loss to Orlando — with most of the Mavs’ starting unit and all of the veterans remaining home for the second game of a back-to-back — Smith got a taste of running the show and calling his own plays.
Smith was able to get his teammates involved while also creating for himself plenty, finishing with 13 points, three rebounds and one assist in nearly 19 minutes during his third preseason game.
“I’m very comfortable,” said Smith, who only played the first half. “At the end of the day it’s just playing basketball, making the right reads and things like that. I’ve been doing that for a very long time so I just have to keep coming out and learning the game and I will keep getting better.”
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Mavs associate head coach Melvin Hunt, who filled in for a sick Rick Carlisle on Thursday, said he most pleased with Smith’s growth in calling his own plays against Orlando.
“I wanted him to get the feel of that responsibility and he did some great things. It was subtle,” Hunt said. “He did some subtle things that were big time. It’s fun watching him develop.”
Smith was coming off a back-to-back in which he scored 14 points on Wednesday night during a home win over Chicago. He played with much better pace Wednesday than in his debut and Thursday night he improved a little bit more in that area without starters like Dirk Nowitzki, Harrison Barnes and Wesley Matthews not even in the building.
He converted two of four shots from 3-point range, and continued to show his great athletic range by driving to the basket and also soaring above Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic for an alley-oop slam in the second quarter.
“It was a great play call by Coach Hunt, that’s it,” Smith said of the alley-oop feed from Seth Curry. “He set me up how I need to be set up and Seth made a great pass.”
Missing for the Mavs
Starters Dirk Nowitzki, Wesley Matthews and Harrison Barnes did not make the trip along with veteran reserves Nerlens Noel, J.J. Barea, Josh McRoberts and Devin Harris. Coach Rick Carlisle did not make the trip because he was ill.
The Mavericks (2-1) are off until Monday when they will host Orlando.