When Dennis Smith Jr. joined the Knicks last year, there was hope that the North Carolina native could be an answer to the point guard position. With a rotating door of names, the Knicks have had struggles trying to find a permanent fixture at lead guard.
Over the past few years, Knicks point guards have been tall, short, old, young and everything else in between.
Back in February of last year, New York stunned everyone when they dealt young All-Star Kristaps Porzingis. The Knicks acquired Smith and two first round picks from the Mavericks for Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr., Courtney Lee and Trey Burke. Though the main attractions of the trade were cap space and the two first-round picks, Smith seemed to be an intriguing reclamation project.
When the Knicks acquired Smith, he was a solid-if-flawed prospect. Though his outside shot has been a concern all the way back to the 2017 NBA Draft, there was no denying Smith's athleticism and ability to make plays in the open floor. His time in Dallas was uneven and ended on a sour note after Dallas chose Luka Doncic as the perimeter player to build their offense around.
Smith has tried to find his niche in New York. Last season, he had a large role as the Knicks tanked their way to a 17-65 season. Playing with less ball-dominant players last year was a better fit for Smith. The arrivals of isolation and ball-dominant players Julius Randle, RJ Barrett, Marcus Morris this season have had their effects, making Smith handle the ball considerably less. That plays against his skill set, where he's had the ball in his hands for all of his playing career.
Smith had a rough start to his season after missing time in the preseason with a back injury. He's also missed time with an oblique injury and after his stepmother passed away. When he has played, Smith has looked lost on the court.
He hasn't been able to find the range from anywhere on the court, and is shooting career-lows from nearly every spot on the court and shooting 34 percent overall from the field. Smith also has posted a career-low 54.8 percent around the rim according to Basketball Reference.
And then there's the turnover problem. Smith is fourth in the NBA in turnover rate (19.6 percent). It's not like Smith has all of a sudden been passing more and that's caused a spike in turnovers. Smith is just coughing up the ball at every chance, veering into closed off lanes, and dribbling around aimlessly. You name the kind of turnover, Smith has committed it.
To be fair to Smith, the Knicks haven't put him in the best position to succeed. Playing with New York's compilation of non-shooters has crowded passing and driving lanes. The timing windows to convert on a pocket pass or an alley-oop are small and require precision.
Any hope of Smith becoming a starting level point guard has dissipated quickly. It's a major disappointment and also reverberates back to the criticism of New York's developmental strategies with younger players. Though he has only been with the Knicks organization for a year, he hasn't shown growth in any areas on the court. As a matter of fact, Smith has regressed.
13 months later, the Porzingis trade has looked like a major failure. The dream of drafting Zion Williamson with the number one overall pick faded when New York ended up falling to third in the 2019 draft lottery. Then in free agency, the fantasy pairing of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving happened, but in the wrong borough.
Meanwhile, the Luka Doncic and Porzingis partnership has worked in Dallas. The Mavericks are currently seventh in the Western Conference with a 36-23 record. And with Doncic and Porzingis in their primes, the two first-round picks that the Knicks acquired from Dallas are likely to be picks in the twenties of the 2021 and 2023 drafts.
There were other factors at play when it came to the trade, though, including Porzingis' dissatisfaction with the Knicks and questions about what player he would be post-knee surgery. Still, the return on Porzingis will amount to Smith, two late first-rounders and cap space that was used on Julius Randle, Marcus Morris and several forgettable veterans. Not great, Bob.
With Porzingis excelling in his role as complementary star with the Mavericks, the Knicks have to wipe the egg off of their face and figure out the future of the point guard position.
It makes sense that, according to reports, the Knicks have made drafting an offensive-minded point guard a priority this offseason. However, it won't matter if they continue their habit of devaluing their own prospects.