In last June’s NBA draft, the New York Knicks and Dallas Mavericks picked 8th and 9th respectively. As we now know, the Knicks went on to select Frank Ntilikina from France, leaving the Mavericks to get their man in Dennis Smith Jr right after them. As with any players drafted one after the other, especially when they play the same position, the comparisons were going to take place. Most talent scouts felt that Smith was the better prospect, but adding a young player of Frank’s caliber to your stable of young talent is never a bad thing.
That conversation would soon be drug back into the limelight at the annual Las Vegas Summer League. While Ntilikina sat wit a knee injury, Dennis Smith was wowing crowds with his dynamic athleticism and skill set. He would go on to make the All-Summer league 1st team. And reactionary Knick fans let doubt creep in….”Did we take the wrong guy?”
Things remained relatively quiet on that front for awhile, until after Saturday’s Mavericks vs. Cavs game when Lebron James did what he does, and sparked a controversy.
“He should be a Knick,” James said of the Mavericks rookie Smith.
“He’s an unbelievable talent. Athleticism. He’s very poised to be his age. Can shoot the ball, can penetrate. He’s only going to get better and better with the opportunities that he’s given here to play. Dallas got a good one.”
While the Mavericks are rightfully celebrating their star rookie and Lebron’s ringing endorsement of him, not everyone is taking it so well. Lebron’s comments weren’t aimed at Frank, but it obviously implies that Lebron feels that Smith should have been taken before Ntilikina. So naturally, Knick fans rushed to his defense. Immediately citing the reasons as to why the King was incorrect in his assessment.
“He is a way better passer!” they said.
“Look at his defense!”
Some fans even started to attack Dennis Smith’s game as some convoluted way of promoting their guy, which is seemingly a common trait of irrational homers. Even MFFL’s are not completely innocent here either, weather it be because they are defending Dennis from unhappy Knick fans or just trying to tear down Frank, they are just as guilty.
Even the Knicks players felt it was a cause worth fighting for…
(Please excuse the incredibly biased Cavalier Commentators)
And this is a problem. I understand that we live in the era of the hot take, and the entire sports community, not just the basketball one, are far too reactionary, but this nonsense has got to stop. They are 19-year-old kids playing in the best league in the world for the first time. They have played a COMBINED 21 games. Yet, people still want to examine them like they are a finished product. Why is that?
I don’t have that answer, but what I do know is that if you try to put either of these guys games under the microscope right now, you are not going to like what you see. Dennis Smith is an explosive, dynamic player off the dribble. He is a walking, living, breathing highlight film. But, he is also 19 years old. He has a tendency to take bad shots, make poor decisions, and turn the ball over at far to frequent a rate and his shooting percentages are hard on the eyes.
As for Frank, he is a fabulous defender. He uses his gargantuan wingspan to get in passing lanes and pester defenders into coughing up the rock. Pair that with his solid floor game and steady playmaking, and you have got a pretty nice prospect in Ntilikina as well. But just like Dennis, he is only a pup in the league. And as you might imagine, he has had his very own troubles with turnovers and decision making, and his shooting line is even worse than Smith’s and he is playing nine fewer minutes per contest.
But here is the thing….It’s okay for them to struggle!
These kids and that is just what they are, are learning on the job. The good outweighs the bad right now, but fans of both players should embrace that. Soak in the little bit of good and relish it. Knick fans, the picture that two-man game between Frank and the Unicorn. Imagine the havoc they can and will wreak on Eastern conference teams for years to come. Mavs fans, stay up all night YouTubing Dennis Smith highlights. Celebrate what an exciting young player fell all the way to them at ninth overall and Look forward to pairing him with another young stud in this year’s draft.
Those days aren’t all that far off. But they aren’t here yet. So for the time being, embrace the struggle. Understand that it comes with the territory of being a young player in the NBA. So whether you root for the Mavericks, Knicks or whoever, let’s please stop comparing these two. They’re entirely different players, in entirely different roles, who will develop at entirely different rates. If you want to have this conversation in five years? Fair enough. For now, though, let us all acknowledge that both kids are exciting talents and both teams should be happy with their youngster.
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