Yesterday, the NBA at long last returned to make the world at least 10 percent less dumb. The NBA is the best sports league. It has the best players, the best storylines, the best rivalries, the best coaches, the best announcers, by far the best Twitter.
It’s been a minute since the Mavericks were actively involved in the conversation surrounding the NBA, minus a few spots here and there for a Dirk Nowitzki milestone or a buzzer beater or maybe a trade or something. Mostly the team has been ignored, and I get it. They are decidedly average.
Figure that to change at least a little bit this year with the presence of rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. I talked to him for the December issue and one thing I loved was how salty he still was over the missed dunk that mesmerized everyone during summer league play in Las Vegas.
“I was really — I was upset. I knew I had got fouled, and I was like, ‘Man, I should have just dunked with two hands.’ I had all that going through my head.”
You can read the full interview below this (bonus!) preview. (The Mavs tipoff tonight against Atlanta at 7:30 p.m. to start the new season.) Just know, if you haven’t seen DSJ play yet, you are in for a treat. He’s an actual point guard, not just a collection of athleticism, but MAN that dude can fly. And with Dirk Nowitzki starting at center, opening up the paint, Smith is going to get plenty of opportunities to attack the rim. It is going to be fun. I’m 85-percent certain he’s going to win Rookie of the Year.
As for the rest of the team, Harrison Barnes proved he can be a No. 1 option last season. Seth Curry proved he was more than just Steph’s little brother. Dirk was still mostly Dirk, which is amazing at this late date. I mean, he does run like someone knocking on his front door woke him and he’ll be right there, dang, but still. Nerlens Noel Could Be Very Interesting enters its fourth season, a contract year, no less.
The weird thing is how much the roster and its age has changed since the beginning of last season. The Mavs are … a young team now? It hasn’t been that since the early 2000s. Rick Carlisle is better at coaching a group like this than I was led to believe by his departure from Indiana when they began to rebuild. Carlisle is one of the few coaching geniuses in the league. Give him a semi-functional healthy roster and he can get 10 more victories out of it than anyone could rightfully expect.
So, I think the Mavs will be fun. They’ll be competitive. But in an insanely loaded Western Conference, they most likely aren’t a playoff team. And that’s OK. We’ll have some good times, Dirk will pass Wilt Chamberlain on the all-time scoring list, and we’ll be ready to get it for real next season.
Now it’s time for you to meet Dennis Smith Jr.
D: You were the ninth pick in the draft but the fifth point guard taken. Of the guys taken ahead of you, which one do you want to destroy the most?
Smith Jr: [laughs] Nobody in particular. I’m focused on the vets. That’s what I’m aiming for. The solidified guys in the league, I’m trying to beat them out.
D: What was the strangest thing that happened during the draft process? I heard something about an octopus and Phil Jackson.
Smith Jr.: That was pretty weird.
D: Whenever an octopus is involved, it always sounds like some Bond villain business to me.
Smith Jr.: It was so weird. Everybody is ordering their food. It’s a restaurant I’ve never been to before. He comes in and we’re conversing like normal, and he’s like, “Yeah, you should try this octopus.” I looked at him and said, “No, sir, I’m fine. Thank you, though.” He was insistent, like, “Seriously, try it out.” I was like, “I’m good. I don’t really eat octopus, but I appreciate the offer.” Then he ordered it anyway. He’s like, “This is not a test or nothing; I just want you to try it out.” So the grilled octopus came out, they cut me a little piece, and, you know, I tried it out.
Smith Jr.: I ain’t like it. It was way too chewy. I like seafood, but I’m cool on the octopus.
D: Have you found a spot to live yet?
Smith Jr.: I did. It’s right, like, three, four minutes away from the arena. So it’s a pretty good area. Secluded, not too much going on.
D: Your dad raised you and your sister on his own. Is he going to move out here from North Carolina?
Smith Jr.: He is. Yeah, he is going to move down there. He’s flying in today to find him a spot, and he’ll be back and forth from home and here.
D: What do you like about Dallas so far?
Smith Jr.: Yeah, that Pappadeaux’s on Oak Lawn. I like seafood a lot. So now I’m around a Pappadeaux’s. They said it’s the last season for crab legs or something like that. That was pretty disappointing. So hopefully between Dennis Smith and D Magazine, we can change that.
D: What was it like the first time you talked to Dirk?
Smith Jr.: It was crazy. [laughs] That’s a future Hall of Famer, first ballot. One of the greatest forwards we’ve ever seen. He’s just a living legend, you know. And my aunt is a really huge Dirk fan. This was years back. She’s been a huge Dirk fan. So to finally meet him—everybody was like, “Yeah, when you meet him, he’s a funny guy. He ain’t what you expect.”
D: He’s a goofy dude.
Smith Jr.: Yeah, he is. When I first met him, he was just joking around the whole time. It’s gonna be a good year. I’m enjoying while he’s here this year and next year.
D: Why do so many North Carolina guards have such insane vertical leaps? There’s you and Michael Jordan. David Thompson.
Smith Jr.: I don’t know. North Cack is different. It’s different. There’s a lot of guys that don’t really have really big names that are super athletes, too, you know. Probably jump higher than me. I really don’t know what it is. We just had a debate with the team the other day. I don’t know. It blows me away, too.
D: How old were you when you first dunked?
Smith Jr.: Thirteen or 14. I got my first in-game dunk around the same time. We were up by a lot, so I was like, “All right, I’m leaking out. It’s gonna be a leak out and it’s my chance.” I threw it off the glass, caught it two hands, and dunked it.
D: You can pick any player you want, all-time. Who would you most like to dunk on?
Smith Jr.: If I had to pick anybody all-time, I’d say it would have to be Michael Jordan. It would have to be Michael Jordan, because he’s widely viewed as the greatest player in basketball history. So I say Mike.