Disastrous Ex-Knicks Guard Improved ‘Night & Day’ Before Joining Nets

New Nets G Dennis Smith Jr. (left) taunts ex-Net Kyrie Irving during a March 2022 game between the Hornets and Mavericks.

Getty New Nets G Dennis Smith Jr. (left) taunts ex-Net Kyrie Irving during a March 2022 game between the Hornets and Mavericks.

LAS VEGAS — New Nets guard Dennis Smith Jr. has been through the wringer of New York sports. In his second NBA season, after a strong rookie showing in Dallas, Smith was dealt to the Knicks as part of the Kristaps Porzingis package. He had a rocky, injury-packed, 58-game tenure over parts of three seasons with New York before he was finally dealt to Detroit in 2021 as part of the Derrick Rose trade.

His time with the Knicks was forgettable, as Smith averaged 8.7 points on a measly 37.9% shooting. But he signed with Brooklyn this summer, and is coming back to the Big Apple a bit more humble and focused than his last time around.

Thus, when speaking to the media for the first time after signing with Brooklyn, he was sure to avoid any overly bold proclamations.

“I ain’t even gonna make no bold claims because I know how y’all do in NY,” he said.

Can Dennis Smith Jr. Earn Minutes?

Smith, the No. 9 pick in the 2017 draft, said that he wanted to come to Brooklyn because he saw an opportunity to play. The Nets have Spencer Dinwiddie starting at point guard, and he could be backed up by either Smith or Edmond Sumner, a combo guard who averaged 7.1 points in 53 games last year.

Sumner’s contract for next season is not guaranteed. The Nets have until July 15 to make a decision on him.

There’s also the specter of Ben Simmons, the erratic and oft-injured Nets wing who could be one of the best point guards in the NBA if he were so inclined. A healthy Simmons could dramatically alter the Nets’ point guard situation.

But Smith, who rebuilt his game as an intense defender while with Charlotte last season, is ready to fight for playing time. Smith averaged 8.8 points in 54 games last year, staying on the floor for his defense despite terrible shooting (41.2% from the field, 21.6% from the 3-point line).

“I’m going to have to come in and earn my minutes like everybody else. That’s on par with my brand. Ain’t nothing been given to me. So I’m looking forward to that,” said Smith, adding he looked at the roster and saw opportunity.

“Yep, I had thought about that a couple of weeks before I had a call with them. So my excitement was matching theirs whenever they were on a call with me, so it’s a place I can see myself at and it worked out perfectly.”

Smith: ‘I’m Mature’ Compared to Knicks Tenure

For those who watched Smith with the Knicks and saw a scattered player who could not define his own role in the NBA and butted heads with both Tom Thibodeau and then-Dallas coach Rick Carlisle, he says he might not be recognizable. He is still only 25 years old, but he has learned a lot from having bounced from Top 10 pick to journeyman guard for the Pistons, Blazers and Hornets after leaving the Mavs and Knicks.

“I’m mature, I got better every year, I learned something every year,” Smith said. “I’m thankful for everything that’s happened to me since I’ve been in the league because I wouldn’t be the player or person I am today. So it’s like night and day, damn near.”

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