Dennis Smith Jr. Needs More Runway
The good news out of Wednesday night for Dennis Smith Jr. was that after missing almost a full month due to injury, he once again took the court late in the third quarter of New York's 100-92 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.
The bad news was that it didn't go all that well for him, missing both of his shot attempts in just over three minutes. The Knicks were a team-worst -9 in Smith's time on the floor.
Still, Knicks coach Mike Miller praised Smith's explosiveness, and urged the need for patience as he gets game-readier after the long layoff.
It's hard to call this anything other than a lost season for Smith so far. Even by the standards of his uneven career marks, this has been a down campaign to date. He's shooting 32 percent from the field, after posting a 42% mark in 2018-19. He's missing half his free throws. His assist and steal percentages are career lows.
It all adds up to a player profile at or below the markers he'd reached by the time the Dallas Mavericks drafted him: elite athleticism, with few of the tools turned into skills.
It is not unreasonable for observers to think the Knicks should move on from him, but consider his current status in terms of reasonable timeframes the team can do so. The Knicks exercised Smith's 2020-21 option back in October. So that leaves them with the option of trading Smith by the February 6 deadline, looking to move him this summer/early next season, or letting him play out his contract.
The chances Smith's value drops any lower than it currently stands are virtually nil. The team has 37 more games to get Smith playing time, and determine both his future fit and whether another team could find a place for him. Moving him anytime soon, while it may have made sense before his long layoff (for either minutes purposes for Frank Ntilikina or increased opportunities for Elfrid Payton to run the team and improve opportunities for other young players like Mitchell Robinson offensively) no longer does.
There is an option that the Knicks also ought to pursue: Smith to the G-League when possible. He simply needs minutes.