NBA Draft Scouting Report: Dennis Smith’s Strengths, Weaknesses and Comparison
As we are just a handful of days away from the NBA Draft I’ll be breaking down the scouting reports for various players across the country who are expected to be taken in the top-10 of the 2017 NBA Draft. If there is someone specific you want on here, please let me know @barstoolreags. All videos are courtesy of Synergy and Krossover and the stats will come from Synergy, Krossover and KenPom.
Dennis Smith Jr. – North Carolina State
6’3”, 195 lbs, 19 years old
Projected: No. 9 (DraftExpress) No. 7 (NBADraft.net)
Comparison: Steve Francis
Background: Perhaps no one in this top-10 has more of a boom or bust feel than Dennis Smith Jr. The North Carolina State freshman has drawn comparisons to Russell Westbrook (though I think he’s more Eric Bledsoe without the defense than Westbrook) but there are questions when it comes to his shooting and his attitude. That said, Smith is a guy who bounced back from a torn ACL to have a pretty decent year on a pretty shitty NC State team. He put up 18.1/6.2/4.6 averages while he had a PER of 23.1. Perhaps the best thing to see though was his athleticism still in tact after the injury. He thrives on being an athletic point guard that can finish at the rim and beat guys off the dribble. He fits that new combo guard feel that a lot of point guards in today’s NBA comes from – hence the Westbrook comparison you’ll see. Smith was named ACC Rookie of the Year over guys like Jayson Tatum and Jonathan Isaac while also being second team All-ACC.
Strengths: I was texting with a guy who has spent time working with Dennis Smith and some other NBA draft prospects and his biggest takeaway is Smith’s ability to switch gears and get from 0-60 and back down to 0 in an instant. That’s an elite skill that you can’t teach, no matter how good of a player he is. Changing speeds is one of the most important parts of being an NBA guard. Part of that can be seen in why he’s so good in the pick-and-roll set. He was the ball handler in a pick-and-roll set 42.1% of the time he was on the floor and the Wolfpack scored .893 points per possession – which was good for 61st nationally per Synergy. I do want to focus on his pick-and-roll sets the most here, because you’ll see that the most in the NBA. There are a couple of teams in the top-10 that can take him and run this (I’d kill for the Knicks to just let him and Kristaps run this set over and over again). Smith does look to attack the rim off the pick no matter if he uses the pick or goes away from it. He averaged 1.037 points per possession going to the rim using the pick and 1.312 ppp going to the rim while going away from the pick. This is where his athleticism comes into play as he will absorb contact and finish through it or simply jump over the defender to finish at the rim. On top of that he is creative in using the rim as protection and finds different release points while in the air. Here’s a couple examples where you can see him use the burst of speed to get into the lane and then a couple creative finishes using the rim as protection from shot blockers.
While there are questions about his ability to pass in the halfcourt, he is a strong passer out of the pick and roll set. NC State scored 1 point per possession off of his passes in this set, which ranked in the 59th percentile nationally. It’s sort of impressive they were that strong as the lane was often cluttered and his supporting cast wasn’t great. He’s even better at hitting the roll man in this set as they scored 1.023 points per possession when the pass went there. What makes him a good enough passer out of this set is he’s not flashy with his passes. He doesn’t try to wow you with the incredible pass, but instead makes the boring, simple one. He often is working through a double or a hard hedge on the screen and hits the roller with a bounce pass on a slip or takes the extra dribble to create a lane and get a direct pass. This play here you see the hard hedge by Collins and the patience from Smith. He takes the long stride after getting past Collins’ shoulder and hits Abu before Collins can recover and before helpside gets there. Again, it’s a simple play.
Finally, he does have an extremely quick first step, which makes him great in ISO sets or in transition. He graded out as ‘very good’ per Synergy in both sets due to his ability to beat people up and down the floor and play at different speeds. He’s also extremely patient when attacking, which is shocking to see. When a player is athletic as Smith, they usually just put their head down and drive, no matter what. Smith will probe and wait for something to open up before he attacks. You can see here against Miami him waiting for the spot to open before attacking. It goes back to what I said in the beginning about the changing of gears. When you throw in the fact he’s a good rebounder from the guard spot and will have the ball in his hands quite a bit, this is something that will translate to the NBA.
Weaknesses: When you watched NC State play this year you did notice Smith sort of bored out there, or at times where he looked like he didn’t care. While you can chalk that up to being an 18/19 year old kid playing on a dysfunctional team that wasn’t successful, GMs will get scared of him taking plays off. Obviously if you’re a top-10 pick you’re likely going to a team that isn’t good or isn’t going to compete. Will that sort of attitude transfer to the NBA as well? The other thing that was said to me is his lateral quickness didn’t fully come back to where it was before the injury. He’s still incredibly strong vertically and can finish at the rim, but where’s that second gear going laterally, which ties into the next point. He’s not strong defensively right now. He should develop into a decent defender as he has good length and size and can get into the shorts of a guy, but he does get out of position and out of his stance quite a bit. Again, part of this is tied to NC State, but still a cause for concern on an individual level as we get ready for the Draft. Finally he’s still inconsistent with his jumper. He does like to pull up in the midrange, especially coming off screens, but he needs to be a more consistent shooter if he’s going to rely on that. He does have a little weird hitch in his jumper, especially from his lower half, which causes him to shoot on the way down instead of at the peak or on the way up. This causes his shot to come out flat and why he was a sub-33% 3-point shooter for a large portion of the season.
Draft Stock/Projection: It’s going to get talked about nonstop, but it’s true. Dennis Smith is the pick that will make a GM great or get him fired. He’s that much of a boom or bust type player. That said, he’s clearly a top-10 talent and you hope getting him out of the NC State locker room and into an NBA one does him wonders. On top of that he won’t be playing with such a congested lane, as NC State often surrounded him with 3 non shooters, which means the NBA will translate to his game better than college. As long as he doesn’t go to the Knicks and their dumbass triangle, he will be in a lot of pick-and-roll sets and transition. Dallas would be the perfect fit for Smith out of the range he’s expected to go though.