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Dennis Smith, Jr. Scouting Report

CONTEXT

Dennis Smith, Jr. started the season ranked second on Draft Express’s top 100 but his one year in college dissuaded people from the notion he belonged in the same tier as Markelle Fultz at the top of this draft.

On the surface, his individual performance withstood the higher level of competition, as he posted a decent-looking statistical profile with a 21.8 PER, averages of 20.8 points and 7.1 assists per 40 minutes, and a .520 effective field goal percentage on 27.2% usage.

But North Carolina State had a disastrous campaign – losing 17 of its 32 games and 14 out of 18 in the ACC, missing the NCAA Tournament. Smith got caught in the tire fire, lost some status and is now perceived as a second tier potential star – currently ranked seventh in Draft Express’s top 100.

Smith didn’t elevate his team’s level of play and has a lot to improve in terms of running a team, as he was rarely seen picking up the pace of the game or organizing his teammates in the half-court.

But he wasn’t surrounded by a lot of talent or put in a particularly dynamic structure that gave him a head start on his attempts to generate offense. Omer Yurtseven, who didn’t play very well in his first year in the United States, was his only NBA-caliber teammate and it was rare for him to give up the ball early in a possession then get it back later with the defense already bent. North Carolina State also didn’t shoot well enough from long range to open up driving lanes for him, as it ranked 212th in the country in three pointers made.

On the other end, things were a disaster and Smith shares a large part of the blame. As was the case in high school, he was constantly disengaged on defense and led a team in minutes that ranked 229th in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency – according to kenpom.com.

(Check the rest of the post at RealGM)

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Dennis Smith, Jr. Scouting Report

(First posted at RealGM.)

CONTEXT

Dennis Smith, Jr. has probably been the least touted of the high profile freshman over the first month and a half of the season.

That’s the case because North Carolina State is not one of the premiere teams in college basketball this season. The Wolfpack improved to 9-2 with a win over Farfield on Sunday but entered that game ranked 63rd by kenpom.com in adjusted efficiency margin due to a fairly weak schedule and losses in the two games they played against reasonably tough opponents in Creighton and Illinois.

Smith doesn’t have great talent surrounding him. Omer Yurtseven (who made his debut last Thursday) is the only other player on the team projected as NBA-caliber and it can be argued Smith doesn’t have a high enough considering the other options around him, though the team doesn’t spread the floor properly around his drives either, making just 6.1 three-point shots per game prior to Sunday’s game.

From his end, Smith has also not done well enough to generate much attention.

It’s not his fault NC State doesn’t have many shot makers to open up the lane for him more or that Mark Gottfried hasn’t installed a dynamic offense for him to impress in it.

But Smith hasn’t shown an inclination to speed up the pace of the game naturally or the ability to make shots consistently against a set defense in order to rise above the challenge of being part of a subpar half-court offense. And for the most part, these are the things that separate him from Lonzo Ball and Markelle Fultz.

SELF-CREATED SCORING

After walking the ball up the floor and a few useless passes that don’t substantially move the defense out of position, most of NC State’s possessions end up with Smith creating out of middle high pick-and-roll.

He’s mostly known for his athletic ability but has consistently shown the ability of working his way around a ball-screen with a lot of craftiness. Smith has a tight handle and can split doubles at the point of attack. He also plays with very good pace and has a hesitation move to wait for a driving lane to clear and turn the corner to the get to the basket when he’s hedged or shown hard against, with 40% of his shots coming at the rim, according to hoop-math.

At the goal, Smith has not flashed the explosiveness that made him famous in high school at the collegiate level yet and doesn’t have a lot of length (six-foot-three wingspan, according to Draft Express) for reverse or stretched-out finishes but can absorb contact and adjust his body in the air to score against length – converting at the basket a 61.8% clip.

Smith has also shown an inclination for drawing contact and getting to the foul line on his drives, earning on average almost nine free throws per 40 minutes – according to basketball-reference.

And that ability to shoot foul shots in volume is vital for Smith because it’s what’s holding his true shooting percentage[1] from sinking well below respectability. He’s capable of making uncontested pull ups from the elbow area and nothing in his release suggests it’s a long road for him to become a real threat from mid-range but in reality Smith entered Sunday’s game having missed 30 of his 42 two-point jumpers.

SHOT CREATION FOR OTHERS

He has proven himself able and willing to create for others consistently. His vision on the move is nothing special. Smith is not one of those geniuses who anticipate passing lanes a second before they come open. But he can make a pocket pass, make passes across his body to the opposite end and identify shooters moving to an open spot on the wing.

According to our stats database, he has assisted on 28% of North Carolina State’s scores when he’s been on the floor and that rate could probably be higher if he had an adequate roll man to work with or had the chance to play with Yurtseven (a pick-and-pop threat) more often by now.

Perhaps just as appealing is the fact Smith has been tasked with heavy shot creation responsibility but hasn’t turned the ball over beyond what can be expected for someone with his usage. He can get caught leaving his feet without a plan or getting stripped in traffic from time to time but Smith is assuredly not turnover prone, coughing it up on just 13.4% of North Caroline State’s possessions when he’s been on the floor.

WEAK-SIDE OFFENSE

Much like his shooting off the dribble, Smith’s release on catch-and-shoot opportunities looks quite workable and even smooth at times. Good enough that it could raise the possibility of him working off the ball some, especially considering Smith should be able to thrive as a backdoor cutter, as he’s able to play above the rim as a target for lobs.

But in reality he’s hit just 27.5% of his 40 three-point attempts. Part of the problem is shot selection when Smith creates his own three-point shots but generally speaking he’s just not a credible outside threat at this point of his development and must monopolize possession of the ball in order not to compromise spacing.

DEFENSE

Smith has been the exact same defender he was in high school, which is to say not very engaged.

When he puts in the effort, Smith can bend his knees to get in a stance and move quite well laterally to stay in front in isolation defense. He also offers some switch-ability, proving himself able to boxout bigger players.

But generally Smith gets stuck on ball screens all the time and doesn’t show a lot of urgency running back to his man, compromising the entire defense. North Carolina State consistently hid him off the ball and had Torin Dorn and Markell Johnson guard the opponent’s primary ball handler.

Then as a weak-side defender, while Smith has made some rotations and picked up some steals[2], for the most part he has closed out to spot up shooters halfheartedly and gotten beaten off the bounce easily often, failed to chase shooters around side screens, gotten caught ball watching from time to time and failed to make athletic plays at the basket. His contributions through charges, blocks and defensive rebounds have been marginal at best.

[1] At a below average .537 prior to Sunday’s game

[2] Averaging two steals per 40 minutes so far this season.

Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at RealGM, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara

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Dennis Smith, Jr. Scouting Report

CONTEXT

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.

SHOT CREATION

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.

DEFENSE

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

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