29. Dennis Smith Jr., Dallas Mavericks
Rook. Newbie. Neophyte. Young’n. “Grab my bag.”
Whatever term you want to use, Dennis Smith Jr. was a rookie in every sense of the word last year.
He was raw, inconsistent, and on most nights, not very helpful to the cause of winning basketball games. According to Cleaning the Glass, the Mavs scored 10.2 points less per 100 possessions with DSJ on the court than when he sat, a figure that ranks in the tenth percentile league-wide. This isn’t exactly news considering a 47.3 true shooting percentage that ranked dead last amongst the 52 players in the league last year with a usage rate over 25 and who appeared in over 20 games.
Smith Jr. was also the only 20-year-old on that list. That Rick Carlisle, someone who’s coached Chauncey Billups and Jason Kidd and played with Larry Bird, thought enough of the young man to hand over the keys to the car and say “drive” says far more about his prospects as a future floor general than any numbers from last year.
There were some brights spots. His assist rate was second highest among rookies behind only Ben Simmons, and he got to the rim at will, taking nearly 40 percent of his shot attempts at close range. Most importunely, he was healthy the entire year and showed zero after-effects of a torn ACL that caused him to miss his senior year of high school.
The question now will be how he adjusts to spending more time off the ball in an offense that will be run through wunderkind Luka Doncic a fair amount. The good news for Mavs fans: this year is all about experimentation. 82 games should be enough to get it right.