Dennis Smith Jr. wanted to dispel any notion that he didn’t give 100 percent effort on the basketball court.
That, more than anything, seemed to be the most prominent weakness associated with him throughout the NBA Draft process where “experts” nitpick a prospect’s game. That knock might have been why what many felt to be a top-five talent fell to the Dallas Mavericks with the ninth overall pick Thursday night.
Smith, a one-and-done player out of North Carolina State, pointed to the “effort” criticism as the biggest misconception about him during his introductory news conference Friday afternoon at American Airlines Center.
“That was put out a lot and we had a lot of things going on last year with our team,” Smith said. “We had a rough year. We lost a lot of games. Coach [Mark] Gottfried wasn’t accustomed to that. He did a great job at NC State. He went to the Big Dance [four of the past six years]. That was a misconception of mine that I didn’t play hard.
“Nobody at NC State believes that — the fans or the players and 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.”
Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle came to the defense of Smith, too. NC State had an underwhelming season by going 15-17, including 4-14 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, and Gottfried losing his job in the process.
But Smith played well enough to earn ACC freshman of the year honors and make the All-ACC second team after leading the conference in assists.
“This young man should be judged on what happens from here going forward on the court,” Carlisle said. “I mean, really, everything else is just talk.”
Well, the talk and buzz surrounding Smith is only growing. He is among the favorites for NBA Rookie of the Year honors, and has already been mentioned as a future All-Star.
Smith, 19, embraces those lofty expectations. He feels the ROY award is “very obtainable.”
“It’s the same guys I competed with in high school,” Smith said. “I believe I can get that award.”
The Mavericks certainly think so. The front office can’t stop gushing about a guard who has compared himself to former MVP Derrick Rose.
Owner Mark Cuban feels the Mavericks “got the steal of the draft,” and Carlisle sees a potential “franchise-caliber player” in Smith.
Those thoughts were echoed by face-of-the-franchise Dirk Nowitzki, who is hosting his charity baseball game Saturday at Dr Pepper Ballpark in Frisco. It’s hard to imagine that Smith was only 7 months old when Nowitzki joined the Mavericks in June 1998.
“I think it’s a great pick,” Nowitzki said during batting practice Friday. “He brings obviously crazy athleticism and his shot is really good.
“He was one of our A-list guys. He’s an exciting prospect. He plays hard, but he also plays with an edge. He’s quick. He’s got handles. He can get to the basket. He should be exciting and fun to watch and fun to play with.”