Dennis Smith Jr. Kyle Lowry
Bruno Rouby, ESNY Graphic


New York Knicks guard Dennis Smith Jr. is a tantalizing talent with some glaring weaknesses, yet he can realize his potential, just like Kyle Lowry.

Geoffrey Campbell

Dennis Smith Jr. received a new lease on his NBA career when he was traded to the New York Knicks. Smith, prior to the trade, had recorded his first NBA triple-double after receiving six DNPs in January.

Head coach David Fizdale appears enamored with lead guards who have size and the ability to break down the defense off the dribble. Smith, 21, has no shortage of highlight-reel dunks and crossover dribbles as he attempts to make a long-lasting impression on a Knicks franchise in the midst of a rebuild.

Yet while time may appear to be on Smith’s side, that can all change this summer. The Knicks may make the jump from the feel-good Mighty Ducks to the ultra-competitive Hawks with the additions of names like Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. Even if you don’t like to dabble in the occasional pipe dream, Smith’s development is paramount to the Knicks immediate and long-term success.

But success and improvement don’t come without honest self-evaluation and targeted work on your weaknesses. Smith has been compared to the likes of Baron Davis and Steve Francis. The similarities are obvious. Supreme athletic skills on the floor and in the air were huge components to both Davis’ and Francis’ games.

However, Smith’s trajectory and potential can only be realized if he follows the path of a different All-Star level point guard, Kyle Lowry. Lowry and Smith came into the league, at similar ages, and with a similar skill set. Lowry has put the work into his game to the point where he contributes to winning on a nightly basis for a perennial contender in the Eastern Conference.

Similarities

Smith and Lowry both came into the league at 20 years of age, but with different levels of expectation. Smith was a lottery pick who played one year at North Carolina State and Lowry was the 24th pick of the 2006 draft, selected by the Memphis Grizzlies.

Both players were heralded for their athleticism coming out of college. Via NBAdraft.net Lowry’s was described as a guard who could “get anywhere on the floor whenever he wants,” with “extremely quick hands and feet.” Additionally, despite his lack of height, Lowry compensated with physicality when driving to the hoop, enabling him to create space between defenders.

New York Knicks

Smith’s talents are no slouch either. Described as the “most explosive athlete in the draft,” Smith is extremely adept at absorbing contact and finishing at the rim. Just like Lowry, Smith’s physicality and running-back like running style make him an absolute nightmare to guard in the open court. Smith’s ability to attack close-outs are also a key component in his success at putting pressure on opposing defenses.

Both guards also struggled with their shot early in their careers. During his rookie season, Smith shot a pedestrian 39 percent from the field and 31 percent from the three-point line. Lowry, during his second season, wasn’t much better, shooting 43 percent from the field and an abysmal 25 percent from three.

Draft Express cited Lowry’s tendency to fade away on his jump shot and poor elevation as the main reasons for his inconsistency. Smith’s shot is plagued by poor form, a hitch, and an inconsistent rhythm. Currently, Smith is shooting 32.2 percent on catch and shoot attempts, 43 percent overall from the field and 32.9 percent from the three-point line. Although there has been some improvement, Smith has a long way to go before he reaches Lowry’s current shooting touch.

Fitness equals buckets

Most fans know that Lowry’s development as a point guard has seen many phases. A player that has played on three different teams, his best years came after the five-time All-Star made a commitment to improving his body and diet.

During the 2016 season, Mike Mazzeo of ESPN spoke with Lowry about his transformation and the impact it had on his game. Lowry talked openly about his desire to extend his playing career and detailed his workouts and eating habits. Lowry explains,

“It wasn’t, ‘Oh my god, I need to do this,’ ” he says. “I’ve been talking about doing this for three years now, honestly. No one knows that — I don’t tell people my business — but it started a couple years ago with getting a chef and getting a nutritionist. ‘Now you’ve learned your body. Now you can do it.’ “

Lowry also spoke about a tough playoff loss to the Washington Wizards, where his play was hampered by physical ailments. Although Lowry often took issue with his weight being criticized, the 210-pound point guard slimmed down and credited two-a-day workouts at his alma mater (Villanova) in during the summer of 2016.

Lowry played basketball twice a day and engaged in weight-lifting and pilates. Lowry also discussed the overall connections between his diet, mindset and on-court performance.

“It’s about fueling your body and then using that fuel the right way,” Lowry says. “You can put as much fuel in your body as you want, but if you’re not using it the right way or burning it off the right way, it doesn’t work. Everything goes together — your training, your eating — and you just have to figure out what pieces go where.”

After Smith was traded to the Knicks, coach Fizdale raised some concerns about his fitness. Fiz also felt that Smith was making mistakes on the court due to fatigue. Marc Berman of the New York Post detailed a conversation between the two where Fiz asked his young point guard to focus more on his sleeping and eating habits. As a result of that meeting, Smith went grocery shopping with the Knicks nutritionist Erika Whitman to stock up on healthy foods.

Now, of course, there are stark differences between Smith and Lowry’s games. Lowry possesses far more intangibles, leadership, passing and defensive skills that have helped him stay in the conversation as one of the NBA’s top guards. Since Lowry’s body transformation, he’s been shooting close to 40 percent from the three-point line on just over seven attempts per game.

Fitness won’t cure all of Smith’s weaknesses, however, if Smith can pay the same attention to detail that Lowry did, there is a possibility that Smith may become more than a trade chip going forward. For the Knicks Smith’s development is just another question added to the suspense leading up to the summer of 2019.

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