Dennis Smith Jr. is proving he belongs with the Charlotte Hornets

Oct 29, 2022; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Charlotte Hornets guard Dennis Smith Jr. (8) handles the ball against the Golden State Warriors during the second half at Spectrum Center. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 29, 2022; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Charlotte Hornets guard Dennis Smith Jr. (8) handles the ball against the Golden State Warriors during the second half at Spectrum Center. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports /
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It hasn’t taken long for Dennis Smith Jr to become acclimated on the Hornets as a focal part of the rotation, galvanizing head coach Steve Clifford and his Hornets teammates with how coachable and purely talented he is offensively and defensively. With Smith on the floor, Charlotte currently has a 103.0 DTRG, which is in the 94th percentile across the NBA. He has been a menace in passing lanes this season, coming off the strong-side corner for multiple interceptions and posting 2.3 steals per game. He impacts the game in a variety of ways; he excels at guarding faster point guards due to his explosion has made him a tantalizing player Clifford likes to gadget off of. His long strides and shiftiness to press up into guards’ faces and be a disruptive defensive presence has helped him average 3.8 deflections per game (8th most) and has tallied 30 in total (7th most). He’s a non-stop energy player who seems to have mastered hustle, length, and anticipation and is always on the prowl to get his team the ball back to create more scoring opportunities which have paved the way for the undermanned Hornets befuddled with injuries average the 17th most points per game.

Dennis Smith Jr has appeared in all eight games for the Hornets and has played a crucial role in helping keep this ship afloat. He is averaging 12.3 points, 4.1 rebounds, 6.4 assists on 48 field goal percentage, and an UNREAL +31 plus/minus. With his unique combination of size, speed, and craftiness, Smith is already proving to be everything Charlotte had anticipated and more. To append to his bag of tricks on the offensive end, Smith is developing a stroke from beyond the arc as it has looked automatic thus far. Smith is shooting (44%) to begin his tenure as a Hornet. Although it’s not a large sample size, Smith shoots 2.6 threes per game. Of those attempts, 2.3 have come from the catch-shoot threes (50%), as Clifford seems to be leveraging his shooting threat to space the floor. Smith’s underrated handle, unreal passing skills, and ability to score off the dribble have given the Hornets a breath of fresh air on offense despite critical losses at the guard position with Rozier and LaMelo missing time due to injury. In contrast to everything Smith provides offensively, he has been abysmal from mid-range, only shooting (33%) from 10-23 feet.

It has been a luxury for Charlotte to have another quick ball-handler that can run line drives to the basket and finish with contact at the rim with backdoor cuts. In his previous stops around the league, Smith never eclipsed over 57% at the rim in his first five seasons. This season alone, he has shot 71% at the rim. Smith has done an excellent job molding one of his more underrated traits, which has been how often he gets downhill and puts pressure on the rim averaging 11.6 drives per game. His patience in the pick-and-roll and deciphering the defense has played imperative to not only his offensive efficiency but how he’s been able to create windows for his teammates. Smith is 20th amongst all NBA players in assist averages, posting 6.4 of them on a game-to-game basis. Dennis Smith Jr can produce offense via passing, which is instrumental to his long-term success. His PER 48 on assists ranks 12th in the NBA, averaging 9.9 assists and 2.7 turnovers within that frame.

The ability to perpetuate his footing while exhibiting his impressive footwork to distort defenses with his dribble penetrations as an interior rim threat to the basket, even without a consistent mid-range jumper, adds to his resurgence. On defense, he is a fearsome menace looking to swipe and deflect any ball in his direction with proficiency. He has all the necessary tools to become a valuable elite backup point guard and more if he continues to develop at his current trajectory.