Rod Beard | The Detroit News
Dennis Smith Jr. is hoping for a career renaissance with the Pistons.
At 23, Smith is going to be with his third team, hoping for a turnaround from what has been a dismal couple of years with the New York Knicks.
Smith is coming to the Pistons, along with a 2021 second-round draft pick, in a deal for Derrick Rose that the team officially announced Monday morning.
“We welcome Dennis Smith Jr. to the Pistons family. Adding another young player who was a high draft pick alongside a draft asset advances our goals in building for the future,” Pistons general manager Troy Weaver said in a statement. “We thank Derrick Rose for his contributions on and off the court during his time as a Piston and wish him and his family well as they move forward.”
There were times when Smith would have been highly coveted as a Pistons acquisition.
Take the 2017 NBA Draft, when Smith was the No. 9 overall pick by the Dallas Mavericks, after just one season at North Carolina State. He was a bouncy, athletic lead guard whom many teams were high on, justifying the high selection.
Smith was taken a couple of picks before the Pistons drafted Luke Kennard at No. 12 — and future All-Stars Donovan Mitchell and Bam Adebayo, at 13th and 14th, respectively. That optimism showed that getting draft picks correct isn’t all that easy for everyone, but after that, Smith had a solid start with the Mavs, starting 69 games and posting 15.2 points and 5.2 assists as a rookie.
At age 20, he was the second-leading scorer in a Mavericks’ group that included Harrison Barnes, Wesley Matthews and an aging Dirk Nowitzki. The Mavericks found a place for Smith, but when the chance to get Kristaps Porzingis came along, they moved quickly in a different direction, trading Smith in a package that also included Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Courtney Lee.
The trade has worked well for Dallas, but has been the opposite for Smith, who hasn’t found his stride in New York. He had a solid first second half of 2019, with 14.7 points and a career-best 5.4 assists in the final 21 games with the Knicks.
Since then, he’s fallen off, playing just 34 games last season and only three this season. The situation had gotten so dire that Smith had been designated to go to the Knicks’ G League franchise to get some consistent playing time.
There’s a cautionary tale in Smith’s dropoff: Josh Jackson.
Jackson was in that same draft and was the No. 4 pick. He had some ups and downs with the Phoenix Suns and Memphis Grizzles before joining the Pistons this season — and Jackson has been an eye-opening success so far.
Those are the players that the Pistons and Weaver, in the midst of a rebuild, can take short-term chances on. Smith is 6-foot-2 and is only 23 years old. Smith can have a 50-game audition and if he has nothing left to offer, the Pistons don’t lose anything. If there’s something there, they have a chance to bring him back as a restricted free agent or to find a different salary number.
Unlike the Jackson or Christian Wood or others the Pistons have tried to buy low on, there are no injuries or question marks to consider. Smith didn’t forget how to play basketball, but his skill set doesn’t include 3-point shooting — his best mark was 32% in his second season.
His athleticism still is his best asset, and the Pistons can use it, to fit alongside their other young pieces on the second unit, including Jackson, Sekou Doumbouya and Isaiah Stewart.
In the long term, the Pistons probably covet the draft pick more than Smith, but anything that he can provide off the bench will be a plus, at least until Killian Hayes returns from his hip injury. Hayes has been out since early January and he’s projected to be rehabilitating his torn labrum until at least the end of March.
In the interim, Smith will get a chance, which could open some other opportunities, with Saben Lee and Frank Jackson, the Pistons’ two-way players, waiting in the wings.