Where does Dennis Smith Jr. fit in the pantheon of points guards in the 2017 NBA Draft?

Nov 29, 2016; Champaign, IL, USA; North Carolina State Wolfpack guard Dennis Smith Jr. (4) brings the ball up the court during the second half against the Illinois Fighting Illini at State Farm Center. Illinois beat North Carolina State 88 to 74. Mandatory Credit: Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 29, 2016; Champaign, IL, USA; North Carolina State Wolfpack guard Dennis Smith Jr. (4) brings the ball up the court during the second half against the Illinois Fighting Illini at State Farm Center. Illinois beat North Carolina State 88 to 74. Mandatory Credit: Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports /

Top-rated recruit Harry Giles isn’t the only potential lottery pick who has worked his way back onto the court after suffering an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury last season.

North Carolina State’s Dennis Smith Jr. tore his ACL in August 2015 at Adidas Nations. The injury kept him from playing competitive basketball until the same camp a year later where the now 19-year old bounced back with an impressive performance, looking like his old athletic self while competing against some of the best returning guards in college basketball.

Smith is a highly-regarded NBA prospect. He is currently ranked as the third best prospect on our own Big Board while DraftExpress has him ranked second. He is also seventh on Sam Vecenie’s board over at Sporting News. One major reason? The elite athleticism that entranced many prior to his injury seemd to be back at Adidas Nations this year. It’s the building block for much of what the 6-foot-3 guard does on the court whether it’s exploding for a dunk in transition, blowing by defenders in the pick-and-roll or attacking passing lanes on defense.

Smith is excellent attacking in transition because of his quickness and finishing ability at the basket. Still, only 29.9 percent of his 147 field goal attempts have taken place within the first 10 seconds of a possession this season, according to Hoop-Math. That number is dwarfed by other top-tier point guards playing in more up-tempo offenses like Washington’s Markelle Fultz (37.8 percent) and Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox (44.5 percent). At the next level, Smith should have more opportunities to play to his strengths and run the floor.

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If opponents are able to slow down the pace, though, his statistics suggest the bouncy guard may have a bit of trouble being an efficient scorer. Through 11 games this season, Smith has an effective field goal percentage of just 41.3 percent in non-transition offense, per Hoop-Math. Much of that stems from his inability to score away from the rim and given that only 27.2 percent of his non-transition offense comes at the basket, that’s a problem. Smith is converting an atrocious 26.8 percent of his other 2-pointers, per Hoop-Math, while taking 39.8 percent of his non-transition shots in that range.

Some of his shot choices may be a product of the offense that he plays in. North Carolina State’s roster only has two players with good 3-point numbers and gets nearly no floor-spacing help from its big men. That allows defenses to key in on Smith’s ability to attack off the bounce and close down driving lanes. Because he’s quick enough, he’s still often able to get into the lane and draw fouls (5.9 per 40 minutes, per KenPom), but being surrounded by better players should open up the offense more, which is why it will be worth revisiting Smith in the spring when we’ve seen him spend additional time on the court with both Maverick Rowan and Omer Yurtseven, two players who recently debuted for the Wolfpack.

For his part, Smith hasn’t exactly helped open up space on the floor either. The 19-year old is shooting 34.0 percent on 3-pointers so far this season, but there are decent reasons to be optimistic about his potential to develop an outside shot. In particular, Smith has shot it well from the free throw line as a freshman (79.5 percent) and appears reasonably comfortable shooting from behind the arc (4.9 3-point attempts per 40 minutes). If the 6-foot-3 guard can develop a serviceable jumper, then he’ll be able to better attack defenders closing out to the 3-point arc or simply blow by them with his explosive attack off the dribble.

As a facilitator, Smith has been very good, but not elite. His numbers — 6.3 assists per 40 minutes with a 29.6 percent assist rate — lag slightly behind some of the other top-tier point guards in the class like Fox (9.4 per 40/33.7 percent), Fultz (7.4/35.2 percent) and Lonzo Ball (10.0/33.3 percent). Smith’s numbers as a passer rank near the middle of the pack for point guards in this draft class as you can see below:

pg-facilitators /

Although Smith has been hailed as an excellent pick-and-roll ball-handler, the Wolfpack’s offense involves quite a bit of off-ball movement that sees the point guard dishing out to shooters from a standstill. With Yurtseven in the lineup, Smith should have more opportunities to make plays on the move, something that could help his stock as the season moves forward.

Defensively, Smith has been largely unimpressive. The big plus is that he’s been able to generate a decent number of steals (2.1 per 40 minutes) due to his quickness and good defensive instincts. Those steals are even more valuable given the high likelihood of him converting points in transition. Otherwise, though, his effort has left quite a bit to be desired, especially for a prospect that is 6-foot-3 and possesses average length. As a guard who won’t have a ton of defensive versatility, it’s important for Smith to show that he can effectively defend opposing point guards at the college level, at least.

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Coming into this exercise, we had Dennis Smith Jr. ranked as the number three prospect on our board. There’s good reason for that. He’s immensely talented, a freak athlete and has the potential to be an offensive terror with the ball in his hands assuming his jump shot develops and he shows the pick-and-roll skills everyone expects now that Yurtseven is on the floor.

There are also reasons to be cautious, though. Smith’s collegiate production hasn’t matched the hype and is lagging behind that of many of the other point guards in the 2017 class. His scoring efficiency in the halfcourt is one concern. His lackadaisical defensive play another. Smith is still an almost certain top 10 pick, but he’ll fall behind Fultz in the draft order and potentially slip beyond Fox and Ball as well.