According to accounts by those who attended the event, Dennis Smith, Jr. was very impressive at last week’s adidas Nations. Mike Schmitz, Luke Winn, Cole Zwicker and Nate Duncan all tweeted the 18-year-old (November birthday) looked great in his return to the court after recovering from surgery to repair a torn ACL suffered around this time last year, which prompted Draft Express to now rank him as the second best prospect entering the 2016-2017 season.
Trusting the assessment of those who saw him in person that Smith, Jr. looks fully recovered and appears to not have lost any of his athletic ability due to the injury, this evaluation is based on how he looked and the skills he displayed playing for Team Loaded North Carolina at last year’s Adidas Uprising and Fab 48.
With Team Loaded North Carolina, Smith, Jr. was in full control of the offense, most often operating in high pick-and-roll or on straight isolations from the middle of the floor. His handle is tight, as he can keep the ball in a string, and he’s shown a wide range of ways of getting into the lane to break down the defense.
Smith, Jr. could be considered a little left hand dominant but has proven capable of driving with either hand. He has burst to turn the corner out of the pick-and-roll but rellies more on his craftiness to get around his man one-on-one, able to play with pace working off the ball-screen, go behind the back, hesitate then turn on the jets or crossover in a pinch to shake his defender off balance.
Smith, Jr. showed to be a capable shot maker off the dribble at that point of his development, able to slow dribble into a pull-up three-pointer unimpeded, but nothing that would scare opponents from playing shell defense or duck under ball-screens against him. Yet, thanks to his edge in athletic prowess and dribble moves, he still managed to collapse the defense on a consistent basis and flashed a decent-looking floater on a few occasions.
At the rim, Smith, Jr. can elevate out of one foot to finish with explosiveness and more impressively, perhaps, has flashed a Euro-step to navigate traffic and great body control to adjust his body in the air. His touch on non-dunk finishes against length was only OK but he threw some neat wraparound passes.
Smith, Jr. is not a pass-first point guard who looks to create for others as his top priority but has proven he’s a very willing passer on the move, passing ahead in transition to take advantage of the defense transitioning back and hitting teammates spot up at the dunker spot on simple dump-offs out of dribble penetration.
But more encouraging is the sort of court vision at six-foot-three he’s shown making crosscourt passes across his body to the opposite end of the court from time-to-time and lob throws spotting cutters diving to the basket for alley-oops.
OFF THE BALL
Playing for Team Loaded North Carolina, Smith, Jr. rarely got opportunities to show his catch-and-shoot stroke. On those few chances, his release seemed a bit methodical and his shot looked more like a set shot, as he got little elevation off the ground, but his mechanics appear to be a fine foundation to be built upon.
He didn’t show to be a particularly instinctive cutter working off Edrice Adebayo’s post-ups in the half-court but excelled filling the lanes in transition, translating his athletic prowess in ability to play above the rim as a target for lobs.
As it tends to be the case with teenagers, Smith, Jr. showed to be an inconsistent defender at that point of his development.
When engaged, he bent his knees to get in a stance and translated his athleticism into lateral quickness to keep pace on straight isolations. He even flashed some potential as an impact help defender, rotating off the weak-side and elevating out of two feet explosively to play above the rim as a shot blocker.
That said, Smith, Jr. often stood flat footed defending off the ball and wasn’t very attentive keeping track of his man relocating off an offensive rebound. But perhaps more concerning (or at least as concerning as you can be with regards to a prospect) is the fact he struggled navigating through screens, often getting stuck on picks and erasing himself of these plays.
Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor and at RealGM, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara