Dennis Smith Jr. is the most explosive player in this year’s rookie class, and he should enter the dunk contest just for kicks and giggles.
On Monday night, during the Dallas Mavericks game against the Orlando Magic, Dennis Smith Jr. sent the city into a frenzy after a relatively routine dunk by his standards. Orlando’s miscommunication on defense paved a runway for Smith. He took just one dribble from the right wing before taking off from barely inside the lane and hammering home a wide-open jam that got the bench up, and the crowd energized. He probably would’ve given it a four out of 10.
— TBN (@TBNMedia) October 10, 2017
Smith’s world-class leaping ability goes back to his days at Trinity Christian in North Carolina. Ball Is Life and Hoopmixtape developed highlight reel after highlight reel of the guard who was born with pogo sticks for legs. Smith suffered an ACL injury heading into his senior year that hampered his ranking just a bit, but 247Sports still had him as the seventh-best player in the class of 2016. The virality put a lot of eyes on his game, and Smith rode that to North Carolina State, where he’d spend just one year. Before hurting his knee, Smith had a legitimate chance of going first overall in the 2017 NBA Draft. After seeing how he’s played in college, summer league and preseason, it’s a shock that he slipped to the nine spot. (It’s also great because the Knicks passed on him, and that means I can make jokes at the expense of my friends and family.)
Smith hasn’t had any issues with his knees since the injury. In fact, he’s become more athletic. Back in June, the ACC Rookie of the Year interviewed with 105.3 The Fan and told the “Ben and Skin Show” that’s he’s jumping higher than ever.
“Did you really gain vertical after an ACL injury in high school?”
“I gained eight [inches]. My sophomore year I was jumping 40, and now I’m jumping 48. And that was the last time I had it measured.”
The Dallas Morning News published the transcript of that conversation on July 10. About a month earlier, on June 11, during a workout with the Los Angeles Lakers, Mark Medina of the Orange County Register reported that Smith registered a 48-inch vertical, which tied the NBA’s record. It’s believable. NBA.com lists Smith at 6-foot-3. A four-foot jump is putting his head slightly above the rim, and he’s had a handful of dunks where he’s effortlessly defied gravity.
— TBN (@TBNMedia) July 12, 2017
Guys in the league channel their explosiveness in a variety of ways. Russell Westbrook and LeBron James are, pound-for-pound, the two most athletic guys in the NBA. Both of them are power dunkers. When they’re in transition or have an open lane to the basket, their goal is simple: destroy the rim and humiliate the defense. They want to go up and generate as much force as possible so that when the ball punches through the nylon, it bounces off the court and goes over the head of the baseline photographers. Neither Russ nor James are known for gliding through the air because leaping from farther out would take away the energy from the actual dunk. Those types of acrobatics are in the lane of someone like Zach LaVine. If you watch whenever he has an open dunk, you’ll see what I mean.
LaVine rising for a dunk is poetic, like watching Einstein do mathematics. He’s a showman. When the chance arises, LaVine won’t hesitate to put a little sauce on his slam by contorting his body and flailing his extremities. That combination is what made him a dunk contest legend. He doesn’t have the same power as LeBron or Russ, but he does have the same athleticism, he just exerts it differently. Dennis Smith fits that mold.
The price of admission to a Mavericks game is worth it just to see Smith in a layup line. He can put his bounce on full display without worrying about anything else. He’s done it in summer league and will continue to do it until he retires.
Smith’s ability to levitate is reminiscent of a young Derrick Rose. When Rose won the MVP, his athleticism was never seen before at the point guard position. He could bounce off of one foot or two and then decide how he wanted to punctuate his field goal while he elevated. Rose, however, didn’t limit himself to just dunks. A couple of times a game, we saw him twist and wind before kissing a reverse layup off the glass. I don’t expect a lot of that with Smith. He, like Westbrook, wants to suck the life out of his opponent, and who can forget the play in Las Vegas that became the most spectacular missed dunk of the summer (and possibly the year)?
— TBN (@TBNMedia) July 14, 2017
The only ones who have a say in Smith competing in the Slam Dunk Contest are those who work for the league, but he’s got the athletic makeup. All we have to see is the creativity, and that’s where dunkers get stuck. A lot of the time, their attempts are too elaborate, utilizing props and humans to do something different and score some additional points. Historically, the most famous dunk contests (2000 and 2016 come to mind right away) enter that conversation because of their minimalistic nature. It comes down to two athletes who value execution over presentation, and Smith is the kind of player who can make his peers grab each other after the most straightforward dunk.
Another reason the league should consider the incoming rookie is because he’s a fresh face with a big name. For years, fans have wanted the NBA’s stars to compete, but they’ve been reluctant to do so. The 2017 contest featured Glenn Robinson, Derrick Jones Jr., DeAndre Jordan and Aaron Gordon, who was competing for the second-straight year. Two of those guys weren’t known as dunkers. Another was a recognized name but not someone who built his game for the event. The national audience is well-acquainted with Dennis Smith, and he’s very athletic and also a versatile dunker.
Smith’s participation would be a smart decision for the NBA. Excluding creativity, he’s the perfect contestant. And I’m leaving creativity out of it only because I don’t know what goes on behind the scenes. It’s easier to judge his athleticism because we can see it on a nightly basis. It’s not the end of the world if Dennis Smith isn’t out there during All-Star Saturday Night. The NBA season is long, and I’m sure his dunks will make their rounds.
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