DALLAS — Dennis Smith Jr. shrugged at the apparently soaring expectations for the point guard taken by the Dallas Mavericks with their highest draft position since getting Dirk Nowitzki nearly 20 years ago.
Besides, the 19-year-old wonders, how realistic can those expectations be?
“You let my grandma tell it, I’m going to get MVP this year,” Smith said Monday, drawing a few laughs during his first media day. “I just take everything in stride. I know what I’m capable of. And I’ve got expectations for myself. So I’m hoping to fulfill them.”
Smith, who left North Carolina State after one season and was drafted ninth overall , is set for his debut in Nowitzki’s 20th season. Dallas is trying to get back to the playoffs after missing for just the second time in 17 seasons with its worst record since Nowitzki’s rookie year.
The Mavericks rave about the athleticism that was on display during the Las Vegas summer league, and are already joking about the 6-foot-3 Smith’s dunk over 6-11 Nerlens Noel in practice.
Smith was 7 months old when Nowitzki was the No. 9 overall pick in 1998, taken by Milwaukee for Dallas after the Mavericks drafted Robert Traylor for the Bucks with the sixth choice.
Nowitzki turned 20 less than a week before that draft. Smith won’t get there until the 20th game of his rookie season, on what should be the night of his second meeting with MVP Russell Westbrook of Oklahoma City.
He’ll also face Chris Paul, new to Houston, and Cleveland’s LeBron James in those first 20 games, part of the reason coach Rick Carlisle confidently declares that he can manage the expectations for the young guard he named a starter on draft night.
“This kid is going to show some really amazing things that we haven’t seen at the point guard ever with this franchise,” Carlisle said. “That said, this is a learning process. The best way for a guy like him to learn quickly is to be thrown out there and be put in a position to have to do it.”
Part of Smith’s confidence comes from two partners in the pick-and-roll — Nowitzki and Noel. Smith was asked about Noel first, and responded by calling him “my dream big” because of the rangy Noel’s athleticism.
Then someone asked about the 13th-time All-Star, 2007 MVP and NBA Finals MVP in 2011, when Nowitzki led the Mavericks to their only championship.
“That’s the other dream big, so I’ve got a perfect frontcourt,” Smith said. “For him to finish out his last seasons while I’m here, this season and hopefully another one, maybe another one after that, I think it’s really good for me.”
Carlisle said Nowitzki is likely to start ahead of Noel, who is playing on a $4.1 million qualifying offer after failing to agree on a long-term deal with the Mavericks as a restricted free agent. Noel said he’s OK with that. Smith is part of the reason.
“He’s the point guard I’ve always dreamed about,” Noel said. “He brings that athleticism, IQ for the game and is so poised at 19 years old. I think we’re both going to take each other’s game to a new level. I’m ecstatic.”
The Mavericks were desperately thin at point guard during a disastrous start last season when they discovered Yogi Ferrell. The undrafted rookie made a quick impression and got a two-year contract.
Dallas also has veterans Devin Harris and J.J. Barea, along with Seth Curry. The younger brother of Stephen Curry emerged as a 3-point threat, although obviously not on the level of the Golden State star and two-time champion.
Even with that depth, the buzz starts with Smith. Nowitzki loves the “freakish” athletic moves and the decision-making. While Nowitzki remembers his difficult rookie year and will have words of caution for a teammate half his age, the big German has already seen something.
“I think he’s going to be hopefully a cornerstone for our franchise for a long, long time,” Nowitzki said. “And he’s going to be fun to play with and he’s going to be fun to watch for our fans for a long, long time.”
Grandma thinks so too.
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