Detroit Pistons: Dialing in Dennis Smith Jr.

Feb 27, 2020; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; New York Knicks guard Dennis Smith Jr. (5) dribbles the ball against the Philadelphia 76ers. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 27, 2020; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; New York Knicks guard Dennis Smith Jr. (5) dribbles the ball against the Philadelphia 76ers. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /

Recovering, restoring and reviving a once thought valuable talent is a tall task for any organization. The Detroit Pistons are a seamless fit for newcomer Dennis Smith Jr., as the organization has substantial evidence to repair NBA careers.

Smith Jr., a 23-year-old former North Carolina State All-American and McDonald’s All-American in high school. He now is in a position he’s never been in: having zero expectations.

Smth is the newest Piston, and also the 10th to be added to the 23-and-under club on the roster. He has an opportunity to rectify his somewhat lackluster young career in the Motor City.

On Super Bowl Sunday, the Pistons (6-18), who hold the league’s worst record, traded away one of their best offensive talents and former League MVP in Derrick Rose to the New York Knicks, in exchange for Smith Jr. and a second-round pick via the Charlotte Hornets.

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Rose has once again reunited with his treasured old coach in Tom Thibodeau, and a Knicks team that is clawing away at a potential Eastern Conference playoff spot.

Detroit Pistons General Manager Troy Weaver has openly displayed his willingness to gamble on erratic talent. Josh Jackson, a former fourth overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft (taken right before De-Aaron Fox), is a bonafide example of the intentions Weaver has with project players.

He hand picked a player who spent the majority of last year’s NBA season with the Memphis Grizzlies G-League affiliate. Jackson is coming off his best week as a Piston, where he averaged 19.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.8 assists  on 45-percent shooting and 43-percent shooting from distance.

Weaver welcomes and encourages them to a team that, at this point, has zilch in the expectation department as well.

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Smith Jr., drafted ninth overall in the same draft class as Jackson, was pleading the Knicks to ship him down to the G League bubble after logging seven straight DNPs just a week ago.

He’s watched his minutes, production and confidence plummet in his two seasons in New York. Smith Jr. was involved in a blockbuster trade in the middle of the 2018-19 season that sent himself, DeAndre Jordan, Wesley Matthews and two future first-round picks to the Knicks and Kristaps Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr., Trey Burke and Courtney Lee to the Dallas Mavericks.

Smith Jr. was arguably the Mavs’ best player in his rookie 2017-18 season, a year where he played and started all but three games. Albeit not the most consistent shooter, Smith Jr. still averaged over 15 points and five assists per game and earned NBA All-Rookie Second Team. He’s known for his trampoline-like bounce and ferociousness at attacking the basket.

He has had some major highlights throughout his four-year career.

Dwane Casey praised Smith Jr. on his defensive prowess and intelligence in the pick-and-roll, after his first practice (courtesy Omari Sankofa II).

"“On the ball, he’s an excellent defender, he’s a pit bull on the ball, which we like,” Casey said. “Offensively he’s an excellent pick and roll player, which is a big part of our offensive identity. The other part of that is he’s got to be able to distribute it and find people, set the table offensively to run other things that we have in our package. His strength is his pick and roll game, his speed, athleticism and quickness on both ends of the floor.”"

With any newcomer, Casey clears the table, offering a clean slate.

Any outside noise or preconceived notions about a player are thrown to the wayside. It’s an opportunity for new players like Smith Jr. to build a solid foundation with the Piston coaching staff, and trust each other as the season rolls on.

Some of the transition will come naturally, as schemes and terminology have carried over from the Dallas Mavericks. Casey once served as an assistant under head coach Rick Carlisle in Dallas.

DSJ should get ample opportunities for the foreseeable future, as the Pistons backcourt looks fairly bleak after the Rose trade.

Delon Wright continues to solidify the starting point guard duties, but behind him are seldom used until recently Rodney McGruder and two-way player Saben Lee. Killian Hayes will continue to rehab his partially torn labrum in his right hip that will keep him out of play until at least late March.

How Casey distributes minutes in the next few months of the season will be something to monitor.

"“I’m going in with an open mind as far as the situation, but everybody is going to get an opportunity there,” Casey said. “Don’t want to put anything in concrete right now. All those guys are going to be getting that opportunity.”"

Casey and Weaver’s knack for finding and developing overlooked talent continues to make Detroit a viable landing spot for future successes. Christian Wood, Jerami Grant and Jackson are projects that the organization has doused, dried and polished into perennial stars.

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The retainment and commitment of such players will be the next step in the ongoing rebuilding process the Pistons are enduring. Let’s hope Smith Jr. is onboard, and falls in line with the success Detroit manufactures in project players.