Dallas Mavericks: Dennis Smith Jr. is adapting to compliment Luka Doncic
By Sean Bush
Dallas Mavericks point guard Dennis Smith Jr. is adapting well to be the compliment to rookie Luka Doncic in the team’s success.
The Dallas Mavericks have drafted in the lottery two straight years. They used the picks to secure Dennis Smith Jr. and Luka Doncic to the building blocks of their team.
The two prospects have done nicely in building an off-court relationship, but now Smith Jr. is doing everything he can to adjust to Doncic on the court. DSJ has had a steep learning curve when it comes to playing off-ball on offense when he shares the floor with Doncic.
Coming into this season, Smith’s only experience being anything other than the primary initiator on offense came in short spurts playing next to J.J. Barea as a rookie. These situations were few and far between and exposed Smith’s weaknesses as a floor spacer and cutter.
Smith spent much of the offseason working on his outside shot which has paid dividends thus far. Dennis Smith Jr. has upped his 3-point shooting percentages from 31.3 percent as a rookie to a much improved 36.5 percent.
As Smith continues to grow as a complementary piece to Doncic, converting on catch-and-shoot opportunities will be a major determining factor in whether the two can play effectively together moving forward.
Another area of focus for Dennis Smith Jr. is on cutting without the ball and attacking closeouts off the catch. Smith has a very long way to go as an off-ball cutter. Cutting takes patience, timing, a firm understanding of the team’s offense, chemistry with teammates, effort, speed and quickness.
This part of the game has not appeared to come naturally for Smith Jr. and will likely take some time to master. If Dennis Smith Jr. and Luka Doncic can foster the kind of unbelievable, almost telepathic, off-ball cutting chemistry that exists between Barea and Devin Harris, then the tandem could become a major headache to deal with for opposing teams.
Smith Jr. is a bit better when it comes to creating against closeouts off of the catch, but he still has work to do in that area too. He is such an explosive athlete that if the defense isn’t set when he catches the ball, DSJ can get straight to the rim with ease.
It is this ultra-aggressive, blow right by the defender version of Dennis Smith Jr. that usually garners the best results. When Smith Jr. starts to overthink situations instead of just reacting to what the defense gives him, he gets himself into trouble.
Finally, the last way Smith Jr. can hope to improve his fit with Luka Doncic is as a defender. As a rookie, Smith Jr. was a defensive sieve. He was legitimately one of the worst perimeter defenders in the NBA last season. This year, he has made some major strides.
Look no further than his gutty defensive performance against the LA Clippers on Sunday night. Smith Jr. was a menace on the defensive end all night and down the stretch had a key game-saving block on Tobias Harris in the post. The 6’8” Harris had the 6’3” Smith posted up on the low block down as the Clippers trailed by two points with around 13 seconds left in the game. See the play below courtesy of the Mavs official Twitter.
Dennis Smith Jr. needs more defensive plays like this for him to reach his full potential as the complimentary piece to Luka Doncic.
So long as Dennis Smith Jr. can continue to improve his outside shooting, his ability to attack closeouts off the catch, and his defensive IQ, fundamentals, and intensity, then him and Luka Doncic should make a fine pairing moving forward.