The Hope of Harper’s Defense in Dennis Smith Jr.’s Development
By Isaac Harris
Before the retirement of Derek Harper’s number, Rick Carlisle points out a part of Harper’s game that he hopes Dennis Smith Jr. adopts.
Sunday evening in Dallas was Derek Harper’s day as we all watched Harp’s jersey rise to the rafters.
But even though the day was about honoring Harp, the Head Coach of the Dallas Mavericks used his time pre-game to talk about what Dennis Smith Jr. could pull from the legacy of Harper for his own game.
“It is interesting with Derek’s number going in the rafters tonight with Dennis Smith Jr. here,” Rick Carlisle said when I asked him about what this night meant to the team and him personally.
“Going forward, I would love to see Dennis develop his competitiveness, in particular at the defensive end the way Derek did. Derek was a great defender who was one of the best point guards in Mavericks history.”
When people talk about the legacy of Harper, like they have all weekend, the common theme surrounding Harper was his tenacity on the defensive side of the ball. Harper might not have ever made an All-Star game, but he was one of the best defending point guards of all-time.
“Every time I would get on the basketball court I could always remember that intensity. That focus. The scowl he would have on his face,” Rolando Blackman said as he addressed the crowd during the ceremony at halftime.
“He was one of the best point guards to play in the league. He played offense, but he could D you up tremendously. Our best defensive player on our Mavericks team throughout our days,” Blackman continued.
As video tributes flashed across the jumbotron throughout the game honoring Harper, another Mavs legend in Brad Davis made an appearance. Davis says that he commonly gets asked who was the toughest defender he went against during his playing days and he went with his teammate in Derek Harper because of their practices together.
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For Dennis Smith Jr., he couldn’t have a better player to model his defense after.
After the Bulls game on Friday night, Rick Carlisle had some comments about the Bulls going after Smith Jr. on the defensive end. After Carlisle said that Kris Dunn (who scored 32 points) got anything he wanted. He then followed up with “They were picking on Dennis Smith Jr…They were going at him,” Carlisle said.
Coming out of N.C. State, Smith Jr.’s defense was something that some questioned as a prospect. With his square frame (6’3″ tall with a 6’3″ wingspan), his body frame wasn’t an elite defensive frame compared to someone like Donovan Mitchell with a 6’10” wingspan.
But you can’t measure heart, skill, and tenacity on the defensive end of the ball.
We know Smith Jr. can dunk the ball with ease and we know that he can get to the rim almost at will. But becoming a high intensity, tenacious defender should be the next step in his development.
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Who better to model that next development after than Derek Harper?