Dennis Smith Jr. still has a future with the New York Knicks, but head coach David Fizdale cannot play him right now.
Nothing went right for the New York Knicks in the second half against the Boston Celtics. While there were plenty of issues that led to another collapse, Dennis Smith Jr.‘s disappointing play is the elephant in the room.
His future with the Knicks can still be bright, but this is a notably dark moment in Smith’s young career. He is borderline unplayable and his body language doesn’t inspire confidence that he will find his game anytime soon.
For the long-term development of his young point guard, David Fizdale needs to give Smith a DNP on Monday. He’s too important to the future of the organization to risk a repeat of Friday night’s performance against the Chicago Bulls.
Playing Smith through this rough patch will also compromise Fizdale’s mantra of “keep what you kill.” There are many reasons to sit the struggling point guard and it’s hard to find a good reason to keep trotting him out there.
Nothing is working right now
Smith has three points in three games and he’s 1-for-11 from the field. On Saturday, he was held scoreless for the first time in his NBA career. The third-year guard looks hesitant to shoot the ball despite the fact that defenses are sagging off him in the lane.
His jumper has always been inconsistent, but he’s not attacking the rim with the same vigor we’ve seen in the past. Smith is at his best in transition and he’s hesitating on plays where he has a wide-open lane to the basket.
“He is just completely out of sync right now.” -Mike Breen pic.twitter.com/I0I1X2wRPw
— Danny Small (@dwsmall8) October 27, 2019
But Smith’s issues extend far past shooting. His defense is maddening. During the second quarter, the point guard fouled Marcus Smart—a career 30.9% three-point shooter—on a wild attempt from deep. That’s just one example of the guard losing his head on the defensive end.
Looks like Smith gets lost in the defensive coverage here. Morris thought he was passing Patty Mills off to him pic.twitter.com/nO1xojTsjE
— Danny Small (@dwsmall8) October 24, 2019
He’s just lost out there on both ends.
Playing in a fishbowl
Madison Square Garden isn’t the easiest venue to work through a slump. Knicks fans are notoriously impatient and it doesn’t help that the fans have a love affair with a different backup point guard—Frank Ntilikina.
Chants of “We want Frank” rained down from the rafters as the crowd had seen enough of Smith. That’s not easy for any player to deal with, let alone a 21-year-old looking to cement himself as a key cog for a rebuilding team.
Holy shit, the entire Garden is chanting “WE WANT FRANK!” as Dennis Smith Jr continues doing Dennis Smith Jr things pic.twitter.com/sUpT9GBrKa
— Clem (@TheClemReport) October 27, 2019
Expect more of the same on Monday if Smith is struggling while Ntilikina is glued to the bench. Aside from one possession at the end of the second quarter, Ntilikina saw no action on Friday.
Fizdale talks often about earning minutes on this roster. “Keep what you kill” has become a rallying cry from the head coach, but his words will ring hollow if Smith continues to play.
“I feel like this team is ready to take that next step,” Fizdale said on media day in September. “They’re going to come out in every game and compete to win.”
The organization’s stated goal from the jump was to win games this season and Smith is clearly hurting the Knicks’ ability to do that. There’s a noticeable double standard for Smith when compared to Ntilikina, for better or worse.
Coach Fiz believes that when Frank gets his opportunity he'll be ready pic.twitter.com/rWqHD2CbzS
— NEW YORK KNICKS ON MSG (@KnicksMSGN) October 27, 2019
“Frank will get his opportunities,” Fizdale told reporters after the loss. “Again, we’re talking about three games into the season. It’s not like it’s 40 games in.”
If not now—when Smith is flailing—when?
The shadow of Kristaps Porzingis
Part of the reason why the Knicks might be willing to play Smith through this troubling stretch lies in how they acquired the bouncy point guard.
The Knicks have too much invested in Smith for him to fail. In exchange for Kristaps Porzingis, the Knicks received three things: salary cap space, draft picks, and Smith.
The plan to use that cap space to sign two superstars didn’t materialize. The two first-round draft picks could be in the 20s of the draft if the Dallas Mavericks reach their full potential.
That leaves Smith as the most important piece of the return for Porzingis. If he flames out, the front office will have serious questions to answer about why they pulled the trigger so fast on the Dallas deal.
Smith is one of the more complicated pieces to this Knicks roster. It’s unwise to write him off after three poor performances, but the pressure is mounting. There’s no sure-fire way to help Smith shake off his recent slump, but giving the embattled point guard the night off on Monday makes the most sense right now.