The 2017 NBA Draft is only a month away and NC State point guard Dennis Smith Jr. is a hot topic for the New York Knicks.
The 19-year-old played one season for the North Carolina State Wolfpack. Despite a supreme individual effort from Smith, the Wolfpack went 15-17 and won just four of 18 ACC games. Smith was blamed for the team underachieving, and head coach Mark Gottfried was fired in season.
That didn’t stop Gottfried from talking up his former point guard to Marc Berman of The New York Post.
Gottfried went as far as to say that Smith has “Russell Westbrook athleticism.” That’s pretty high praise for a teenager who hasn’t seen an NBA court yet.
“Those guys [Ball and Fultz] are good players. Very, very good. But I think Dennis Smith has Russell Westbrook-type athleticism and is that type of competitor. All he needs is time to learn the next level of basketball.”
Per Berman, Gottfried says he doesn’t think that Smith will even be there when the Knicks pick.
The coach claims to have “talked to a lot of clubs” and he’d be surprised if the point guard is “there at eight.”
Gottfried defends Smith against the two star point guards by saying they were in easier situations than his guy. Not a bad point, but still a little far-fetched.
“Dennis walks into a situation where we have a starting forward out for the year with injury [Lennard Freeman], young and inexperienced players all around him,’’ Gottfried said. “He had a completely different situation than some of the other players. [The losing] ended up hurting Dennis. I think that’s unfair. Certainly it had nothing to do with Dennis.”
Gottfried also addresses Smith’s issues with the media while in Raleigh. That’s something that will obviously come into play if he’s in New York.
The season got so bad that apparently, Smith began ignoring the media completely.
He is just a kid after all. The expectations were huge, and he didn’t take the team to the promised land like he was supposed to.
“He wanted to put our team on his shoulders,’’ Gottfried said. “It wasn’t a realistic thing for him to do. He got frustrated and bothered by it. That’s because of how competitive he is.”
It looks like the Knicks are taking Gottfried’s advice. According to Adam Zagoria of ZagsBlog, the team is in touch with Smith’s representatives about scheduling a workout in advance of the draft. The report also mentions the Sixers who hold the third overall pick.
Here’s why Gottfried was so willing to talk up his former player. Smith put up good numbers at NC State. He averaged 34.8 minutes, 18.1 points, 6.2 assists, and 4.6 rebounds on 45 percent shooting from the field.
The youngster was also first in points produced per game, first in assist percentage and sixth in minutes per game.
Smith was at his best when his team was on the fast break. The star player was able to get to the free throw line consistently, and he made nearly 65 percent of his attempts at the rim, per hoop-math.
There’s a lot to love about Smith. As tempting as Ntilikina is due to his pass first attitude and defensive skills, he’ll never be the human highlight reel that Smith is.
However, the negatives were apparent last season. The reigning ACC Rookie of the Year averaged 3.9 turnovers per 40 minutes. He led the ACC in total turnovers with 108.
Smith also had problems with his shot. He was 71.5 percent from the free throw line and even though he launched almost five three-pointers per game shot just a shade over 35 percent from beyond the arc. According to hoop-math, Smith shot just over 30 percent on his two-point jumpers.
It wasn’t just the shots for Smith. It was the shot selection. Per hoop-math, he took the same percentage of shots at the rim as he did from three-point range.
This just means he was settling for the outside shot when he should’ve been attacking the basket. Smith isn’t a three-point shooter.
The biggest issue for the Knicks should be Smith’s defense. DraftExpress pointed out Smith’s clear signs of disinterest last season and his short wingspan meaning he’ll only be able to guard one position throughout his career.
The miracle the New York Knicks were hoping for at the draft lottery didn’t come. They didn’t move up into the top three. Instead, they fell one spot backward to No. 8. There will be no Markelle Fultz or Lonzo Ball for the Knicks.
There’s a new name at the point guard spot. Remember Dennis Smith Jr. because you’re going to hear it one hundred more times in the next month.