Let’s first acknowledge that Dennis Smith Jr. hasn’t returned yet. He’s not even shooting 40 percent from the field this season. But even if he hasn’t gotten back to where he was as a top 10 prospect from the 2017 NBA Draft Class, he’s well above where he was in the second half of his tenure with the New York Knicks.
Smith Jr., 23, is quietly using his time with the Detroit Pistons as a path to NBA rehabilitation, and has embarked on his most productive streak in two years. Since being traded from the New York Knicks (along with a second-round pick) last month for Derrick Rose, Smith Jr. has played in 11 games, including six consecutive starts. Although the Pistons are just 4-7 during that stretch, and 2-4 in Smith Jr.’s starts, it’s normal in a season where the team is 10-25, last in the Eastern Conference and 6.5 games out. from the field. 10-seeded and final play-in spot. In other words, it’s the perfect team for Smith Jr., who is heading to restricted free agency this summer / fall, to show himself.
In his last five appearances, DSJ has averaged 11.8 points, 5.8 assists, 5.2 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game in just 25 minutes per game. He’s also shooting well for him with a good 44 percent in his last five games. In last night’s 129-105 win over the Toronto Raptors alone, DSJ dished out 11 assists, the most it has had since February 24, 2019 (a 130-118 Knicks win over the San Antonio Spurs, by sure).
It may not sound like much, but it is far from a promising and discouraging time with the Knicks. After arriving in New York as the tempting (re) building block in the center of Kristaps Porzingis’s run, DSJ averaged 14.7 points and 5.4 assists, similar to what she had been doing in Dallas, giving Knick fans something of hope and optimism through 21 games, if nothing else. But his 2019-20 was developed with a setback collection, and what emerged was by far the least productive season of his career, far less important than his experiences outside of basketball. Last season, he scored 5.5 points and 2.9 assists per game in just 34 appearances averaging less than 16 minutes per outing. He only shot 34 percent from the ground and was inactive for three significant stretches (and not because of COVID protocols, as the Knicks weren’t invited to the Orlando Bubble.)
And when the Knicks entered this season, he was a lost man on a roster that is suddenly firmly within the Eastern Conference playoff picture and looks set to stay there for the 2020-21 season (barring one). great misfortune: they are the Knicks, after all). With New York this season, he only played three games, registering at least seven or more minutes in an appearance, and did nothing remarkable. According to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily NewsHe even asked to play in the G League with the Westchester Knicks in late January, shortly before being transferred to Detroit.
But at least, for now, he’s figured it out. On a team that has no incentive not to play (and possibly stay?) DSJ, and it has already been reported that he has already contacted to potentially change his free agent acquisition in Jerami Grant – The humble Pistons provide the launching pad for rejuvenation that DSJ desperately needed.
Detroit, in some respects, has given you the keys. It’s the ambitious start-up that finds the multi-dimensional asset you need in Smith Jr.