Dennis Smith Jr. “Earned Respect” of Gregg Popovich

After facing the San Antonio Spurs for the first time in his career, Dennis Smith Jr. has earned the respect of Popovich and the franchise.

Even though the Spurs are already known as a staple franchise and opponent in the league, they mean a tad bit more to the Mavericks as the in-state rivalry has went on over the years.

From Tim Duncan to Manu Ginobili to Tony Parker and David Robinson, the Spurs have had their cornerstones throughout the past few decades that have vaulted them into one of the best franchises in the league.

Their leader?

None other than Gregg Popovich.

On Tuesday night in Dallas, Dennis Smith Jr. took part in the in-state rivalry against Popovich and the Spurs for the first time in his career and didn’t disappoint.

Even though the Mavericks lost by six, Smith Jr. finished with 27 points and six rebounds. Dallas didn’t get the outcome they wanted, but Smith Jr. earned the respect he deserves.

“Thought he did a great job. He knocked down shots we didn’t think he was going to shoot,” Gregg Popovich told me after the game when I asked him about Smith Jr.’s play.

“He earned a lot of respect from us tonight for sure. It wasn’t just that he made shots, I thought he played pretty smart. He is obviously athletic, but I thought he played a pretty heady game and he was fun to watch.”

Smith Jr. has always been known for his elite athleticism, but to hear Popovich give praise to the other parts of his game shows that Smith Jr. is taking a turn in his game for the better.

At one point in the game, Smith Jr. had the mismatch with Pau Gasol at the top of the key and quickly took advantage by getting to the rim at ease. When I asked Gasol about what he thought about Smith Jr. tonight, he used the word “aggressive”.

“Very talented kid. Very aggressive. Very good future ahead of him. The guy has all of the tools to be a dominant point guard in this league and be an elite point guard. Hopefully it works out for him,” Gasol said.

When you earn the respect of Popovich, Gasol and the Spurs, then you know you are headed down a good path in the league.

Oh, it was just his 13th game in the NBA.