Jan 7, 2019; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Dennis Smith Jr. (1) in action during the game between the Lakers and the Mavericks at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports


Schmeelk: Knicks Should Investigate Trading For Dennis Smith Jr.

John Schmeelk
January 16, 2019 - 12:20 pm

Adrian Wojnarowski (along with Tim MacMahon) reported on Monday that the Mavericks are heavily engaged in efforts to trade second-year point guard Dennis Smith Jr. They cited league sources that told them “Coach Rick Carlisle and Smith have failed to find common ground.” It’s also a product of the fact that the Mavericks added another (superior) ball dominant player in Luka Doncic in the draft last year, moving Smith off the ball where he is not at his best.

Smith hasn’t played a game for the Mavericks since Jan. 7, missing three straight with back soreness. He is questionable for the game Wednesday night due to an illness. It is possible the Mavericks want to avoid risking an injury by playing him while a trade is in the works. Smith is a physically gifted player that will likely garner fairly heavy interest around the league.

The Knicks should be one of them. The Knicks are still in the talent acquisition part of their rebuild and should be looking to add as many good young players as possible, especially if they are on their rookie contract. Smith is also a point guard, a position the Knicks still have a lot of questions about. Frank Ntilikina has not proven he can be a starter there and Emmanuel Mudiay will be a free agent this summer.

What would the Mavericks want in return? Thanks to the sensational rookie year of Doncic, the Mavericks are 20-23 and just 2.5 games out of a playoff spot. It doesn’t mean they are in a “playoffs or bust mindset” and would still be looking for future assets to fill their roster. The Mavericks have only seven players under contract for next season (including player options for Harrison Barnes and Dwight Powell) with potential for a least 50 million dollars of cap space.

If the Mavericks want to remain players in free agency for signing more than just one max player, they would need to preserve as much cap space in 2019 as possible. There are also reports they would like to move Wesley Matthews expiring 18.6 million dollar deal. Their main focus will be replacing Smith with another promising young player that fits better alongside Doncic.

So what can the Knicks offer? The main piece going to the Suns would almost have to be Ntilikina. The Knicks would not want to move Kevin Knox, and none of their other youngsters would fit what the Mavericks would be looking for. Like Smith, Mudiay wants the ball in his hands and is an expiring contract. Allonzo Trier isn’t good enough, and only has one more year of control. It would have to be Ntilikina. Mitchell Robinson could be of interest to the Mavericks as part of a package as well.  

The Knicks have a bevy of expiring contracts (Enes Kanter, Mario Hezonja, Mudiay, Lance Thomas, Noah Vonleh) to offer the Mavericks in exchange for Matthews. They could also inquire if the Mavericks would have interest in Tim Hardaway Jr., who could be a piece of their young core and would fit next to Doncic as a catch and shoot threat and finisher in transition. Such a move would clear another 18 million dollars of cap space for the Knicks this summer.

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Smith still has many of the same issues he had coming out of NC State as a freshman in 2017. Even though he is a point guard he does not make the best decisions or share the ball much. This season he is averaging 3.9 assists and a whopping 3.1 turnovers, after having a 5.2/2.8 ratio as a rookie. His shooting efficiency has improved, jumping from .395/.313/.694 as a rookie to .443/.375/.681 this season on about four fewer field goal attempts per game. He is a terrific athlete that can break down the defense and get to the rim. Defensively, he is still a huge liability.

If the Mavericks call the Knicks and want both Ntilikina and Robinson, Steve Mills and Scott Perry need to hang up the phone. The Knicks cannot trade two young assets for one. If they want Ntilikina and some secondary pieces like Emmanuel Mudiay or other expiring deals for Wesley Matthews, it gets interesting.

The Knicks would be in the same exact quandry they were when deciding whether they should draft Ntilikina or Smith. Smith is the better player right now, and has a much higher floor because of his athleticism and ability to create his own shot. Smith, however, requires the ball in his hands to be effective and it remains to be seen if he is an efficient enough scorer and a good enough decision maker to be that type of lead guard with high usage on a winning team. Throw in his defensive deficiencies and it muddles the question even further.

Ntilikina is still a work in progress and will probably never put up the offensive numbers Smith is capable of. On the other hand, it is easy to see how he fits into a winning team as an off the ball player that can defend, facilitate ball movement, and score when asked to. Players like this play important roles on winning teams far more than players of Smith’s type that aren’t top ten NBA players.

Ntilikina’s shooting needs to improve but his form and prior numbers in Europe seems to indicate it will at some point. There is the risk his offense never comes along and that is a question the Knicks will have to answer if the Mavericks have any interest in Ntilikina to begin with. If the Mavericks agree to take on Hardaway’s contract along with Ntilikina for Matthews and Smith, the trade becomes far more attractive for the Knicks.

Even if Smith isn’t a long term fit as a ball dominant point guard, he is a moveable asset in the future for another player or pick that might fit what the Knicks might prefer to build their roster. Smith also fits the type of point guard with an attacking mindset David Fizdale craves. In his second year, he is probably already nearly as good if not better than Mudiay is in his fourth.

The Knicks are still in talent acquisition mode and they should be talking to Dallas about Smith. There’s a good chance another team makes a better offer, but the Knicks need to explore every avenue to improve their future potential. It’s still about accumulating assets, something the Knicks have far too few of.

You can follow me on twitter at twitter.com/Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants and the world of sports. You can also check out my new podcast, the Bank Shot, which you can find here: https://twitter.com/Schmeelk/status/1083437587044487169.