By John Schmeelk
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The Knicks select eighth in the upcoming NBA draft and there is a consensus top 10 of available talent.
They are: Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, De’Aaron Fox, Josh Jackson, Jayson Tatum, Johnathan Isaac, Malik Monk, Dennis Smith Jr., Frank Ntilikina, and Lori Markannen.
Three of those 10 players will be available when the Knicks select. I’ll focus on the three guards that are options Phil Jackson should most consider. We already profiled Monk, so now we will take a look at Dennis Smith Jr. and how he would fit.
The Basics: Smith was a productive freshman point guard for a bad North Carolina State team that did not qualify for the NCAA tournament.
Measurements and statistics from DraftExpress.com:
Weight: 195 pounds
Stats as a freshman at N.C. State: 32 games, 34.8 minutes, 18.1 points, 4.6 rebound, 6.2 assists, 3.4 turnovers, 1.9 steals, 46 percent FG, 36 percent 3-point, 72 percent FT
What I Like: Smith is a very good athlete, but the Russell Westbrook comparisons are not fair to him. He does not possess the gifts of the best NBA athletes. He is on a level just below that, which still leaves him with a high ceiling. You can still be a big-time scorer without having that type of freakish athleticism. He has a good handle, can get to the rim, and finish through contact. He’ll also get up there and jam it. His range stretches behind the 3-point line and he can shoot off the dribble or off the catch.
Smith can score, and possesses the gifts to be a productive guard in a high-screen-and-roll offense where he has the ball in his hands. The Knicks don’t run that system right now (ALL HAIL THE TRIANGLE!), but given Jackson is unlikely to be here for more than two more seasons that should be irrelevant. Smith can get to the basket, shoot off the dribble, and extend his range behind the arc.
What I Don’t Like: Smith struggled defensively, with extremely inconsistent effort and focus. When his team struggled he seemed to mentally check out of games and look like he was in a daze. That is not a good quality to have for a point guard that should be a leader on the floor.
His wingspan is not what you want from a 6-3 player and that might limit his upside on both offense and defense.
There’s also a question about how good Smith’s vision is to get easy shots for his teammates. Poor N.C. State shooting certainly depressed his assist numbers, but his vision is not at the level of Ball or Fultz. Smith is not a bad passer, but he’s not great, either. He also seems far more interested in finding his own shot that setting up his teammates. His shot selection and general basketball decision making needs refinement. His jumper is streaky as well.
The Ceiling: Like all players coming out in the draft, Smith is not a finished product. Further recovery from his ACL surgery as a senior in high school might help him gain more explosiveness back. If he is allowed to do what he does well, allows himself to be coached, and sustains a far more consistent effort level and focus, he has the tools to be an elite point guard in the league. He could be a 22-24 point, eight-assist guy that makes multiple All-Star teams.
The Floor: If Smith continues to be inconsistent with his effort level, he will be a very frustrating pro that never puts his physical tools to their full use. Imagine the problems fans had with Stephon Marbury and Steve Francis, but without being quite as good in their areas of strengths. The odds of Smith becoming an adequate defender seem small. He could be the perfect replacement for the player Derrick Rose was for the Knicks last season, with similar flaws and strengths. That’s not a good thing.
My Best Guess: Smith will most likely be as a good scoring point guard that fills the state sheet, but hurts the team in other areas. With his score-first mentality, he might not be the best person to match with Kristaps Porzingis.
Conclusion: With all his flaws, Smith might very well be the best option for the Knicks when they select at No. 8. He should be a productive starting point guard in the league that can score for a long time, but there’s a good chance his flaws outweigh his numbers.
For everything Knicks, Giants, and the world of sports, follow John on Twitter at @Schmeelk