Dennis Smith Jr.
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

Dennis Smith Jr.’s days with the New York Knicks might be numbered, but what is the trade value for the 2017 former lottery pick?

Geoffrey Campbell

Forty-two games into his career with the New York Knicks, Dennis Smith Jr. may be headed towards joining his third team in three seasons. Smith, a player who still possesses great physical tools, needs a team who believes in him and can help him re-write his narrative as a basketball player.

In mid-December, Ian Begley of SNY reported that the Minnesota Timberwolves were among “several” teams interested in trading for the third-year man out of NC State. Smith, the ninth pick in the 2017 draft, is currently averaging just over five points per game on 32 percent shooting from the field and 29 percent shooting from the three-point line.

Smith’s poor play and lack of playing time can be attributed to many factors. The 22-year/old started the season with a back injury and also had to step away from the game due to a death in the family. But when’s on the court this season, Smith’s play has resulted in a less than appealing net rating of -17.7. Smith’s net rating ranks as the worst on the Knicks with a minimum of at least 200 minutes played.

But history tells us that the NBA loves a comeback and/or a reclamation project. Smith still has an abundance of talent that can be put to use given the right situation. Smith’s ideal role in the NBA is that of a scoring guard with the second unit or a secondary ball-handler that provides shot creation. Smith also needs shooters who can create “shot gravity” and open lanes for him to drive the basketball.

In the clips below, you can see that Smith’s elite athleticism still allows him to take advantage of defenders out of position. Granted it’s pretty bad defense by San Antonio, but you get the point. Additionally, he’s still more than capable of a highlight dunk or two.

Finally, the third clip is why teams will take a chance on Smith. His ability to elevate from an off-balanced position is rare. Just as rare is Smith’s ability to finish the layup from a very difficult angle.

But Smith’s overall decision-making and poor play cannot be ignored. Below you see a combination of terrible spacing from Smith’s teammates and bad point guard play. Smith tries to direct traffic but ultimately settles for a contested floater.

In the second clip, Smith gets Tyler Herro to jump in the air, and it appears that he has a huge lane to drive the ball. Instead, Smith jab steps several times and misses a contested three-point shot.

From the front office’s perspective, trading Smith would be the second strike in the aftermath of the Kristaps Porzingis deal. Failing to sign superstar free agents such as Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving was the first strike, and Smith’s lack of development, not even making it a full season with the Knicks would be another stain for the franchise.

As a result, instead of swapping Smith for a second-round pick, taking pennies on the dollar, Smith will most likely be included in a package deal with one of the Knicks’ more attractive trade chips such as Marcus Morris or Bobby Portis.

As evidence, you can look at players like Josh Jackson and Kris Dunn. Jackson fell out of favor with the Phoenix Suns and was shipped to Memphis for Kyle Korver and Jevon Carter. Dunn was included as a secondary piece along with Zach LaVine and the draft rights to Lauri Markannen in a trade for Jimmy Butler. Similar to Smith, both players have talent, and athleticism but have struggled to become anything close to reliable shooters at the professional level.

Smith’s trade value is almost directly tied to players like Morris. But there are not a lot of contending teams that have the salaries to match. The Milwaukee Bucks present an interesting situation. The number two team in the league in regards to three-pointers made can never have enough shooting. And if recent matchups have shown us anything, the Bucks need more if they’re gonna outlast teams like the Philadelphia 76ers in a seven-game playoff series.

To make the salaries work, the Bucks would have to include players like George Hill and Ersan Ilyasova. Hill’s contract is non-guaranteed for next season, and Ilyasova’s is only partially guaranteed. Furthermore, the Knicks would get their coveted first-round pick (from the Pacers/Malcolm Brogdon deal) and maybe a chance to look at a player like D.J. Wilson or Donte DiVincenzo. But that might be asking a lot.

For Smith, the change in scenery might be the best thing for his career. Scott Davis of Business Insider wrote about Buck’s assistant coach Ben Sullivan and his impact on players like Brook Lopez and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Sullivan is a former video intern from the Spurs organization and has helped the Greek Freak improve his three-point shooting. A career 28 percent shooter from the three-point line, Antetokounmpo is now shooting five threes a game at a 32 percent clip.

Finding a trade partner that doesn’t require the Knicks to bring back money and future years on their salary cap is no easy task. The Bucks are one option, but they might not want Smith and his putrid shooting percentages. But given their history with player development and Kawhi Leonard’s departure from the Eastern Conference, brokering a deal that lands them Morris might just be the push they need to get to the NBA finals.

For the Knicks, any trade involving Smith is an admission of failure. Yet paired with Morris, it could also be a chance to add to an abundance of first-round draft picks. And even without a steady team in the front office, those draft picks may represent the franchise’s best chance at acquiring this year’s version of Anthony Davis, played by Karl Anthony-Towns.

And oddly enough, Smith’s departure from another team could indirectly lead to the acquisition of another franchise star.