Detroit Pistons will give Dennis Smith Jr. an opportunity despite crowded point guard room

Detroit Free Press

Omari Sankofa II
| Detroit Free Press

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Dwane Casey says it often — he likes coaching the underdog. He grew close with Christian Wood last season and helped him grow from fringe NBA player to one of the league’s best-scoring big men in Houston this year. This season, former lottery pick Josh Jackson has established himself as a rotation player after spending much of last year in the G League. 

On Monday, the Detroit Pistons welcomed another player who could benefit from a fresh opportunity. The Pistons officially announced their trade of Derrick Rose to the New York Knicks, which brought back a 2021 second-round pick and Dennis Smith Jr. — a high-flying point guard who was the ninth overall pick in the 2017 draft.

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After a solid rookie season with the Dallas Mavericks, Smith has seen his role decrease in each season since. He only played 28 minutes with the Knicks this season, and was assigned to the G League bubble before the trade.

He joins a Pistons team that has an immediate need at the point guard position. Killian Hayes is rehabbing a torn labrum in his right hip and won’t be re-evaluated for a return to play until late March. Delon Wright has settled in as the starting point guard, so Smith will compete with Wright, Rodney McGruder — who has recently emerged as an option at point guard — and two-way guard Saben Lee for minutes. 

“It’s a great opportunity for him to come in and show us what he can do as a point guard, and we’ll see what happens,” Casey said on Monday. “He’s going to get the opportunity here. I told him it’s a clean slate of whatever reason why he didn’t play in New York, or why Dallas traded him. I like guys with little bit of an edge and something to prove.” 

Smith earned NBA All-Rookie second team honors after the 2017-18 season, in which he averaged 15.2 points, 5.2 assists, 3.8 rebounds and a steal. But Dallas traded him to the Knicks midway through his sophomore season in a package for Kristaps Porzingis. While Smith initially posted solid numbers in New York and started 18 of his 21 games with the Knicks that season, his minutes have since decreased. 

He appeared in 34 games last season, and only three this season. He struggled to crack Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau’s rotation this year, and requested to play with the Westchester Knicks, their G League affiliate, last week before the trade to Detroit. 

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For the Pistons, the move for Smith carries little risk. Casey praised his defensive approach and pick-and-roll ability, and will challenge him to make strides as a passer. Detroit can make Smith a restricted free agent this summer by extending him a qualifying offer, and Smith, in the last year of his rookie deal, has every reason to make the most of whatever playing time he receives. 

At worst, Smith will offer some point guard depth this season and the Pistons can move on this summer. At best, Smith exceeds expectations and the Pistons can lock him down to a long-term deal. 

“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.” 

Despite the trade for Smith, the Pistons are still committed to the point guard who were already on the roster. When Hayes returns this season, it’ll be up to Casey to figure out the new rotation. But Wright and Lee are still very much in Detroit’s future plans, he said. And he wants to find minutes for everyone. 

“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.”

Contact Omari Sankofa II at Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa.


Pistons get Dennis Smith Jr., 2nd-round pick in Derrick Rose trade: Here’s what it means

Breaking down the Pistons’ Derrick Rose trade to the Knicks, which brings back Dennis Smith Jr. and a 2021 second-round pick. Filmed Feb. 8, 2021.

Omari Sankofa II, Detroit Free Press

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