Philadelphia 76ers: Could Dennis Smith Jr. complete the Process?

(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

If rumors are true about the Dallas Mavericks’ backcourt longevity, should the Philadelphia 76ers make a serious push to acquire Dennis Smith Jr.?

In the lead up to the Philadelphia 76ers hometown brawl against the Dallas Mavericks, I highlighted why Luka Doncic is a better fit with Joel Embiid than Ben Simmons (read it here). Unfortunately, that deal will never happen.

While Simmons’ name has come up in trade conversations as of late, though none of these rumors hold much weight, both players are earmarked as franchise cornerstones and are in line to receive max contracts before they turn 25.

However, there is a player in the Mavericks’ backcourt who could soon find himself on the trade block, and unfortunately for Villanova fans, it is not Jalen Brunson (more on him here).

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No, the player is Dennis Smith Jr.

The ninth overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft out of NC State, Smith is a dynamic scorer capable of slashin’, passin’, and knocking down 3s at an above average 36 percent clip. However, his skill set is also totally redundant to that of Doncic, the current and future face of the franchise.

Often tasked with sharing the court for long stretches of the game, with Doncic manning either the two or the three depending on how you classify Wesley Matthews, both players have to compromise their games to make things worse, much to the chagrin of their personal stat lines.

Simply put, this situation is not tenable long-term. For Doncic to truly become the player he’s capable of, a 6-foot-7 LeBron James-esque playmaker on the wings, he needs a point guard who’s down to perch on the wings for long stretches of the game and knocking down open tres when his number gets called.

That isn’t DSJ’s bag.

Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not like Smith is horrible playing off the ball, as his 3 point shooting numbers are way up since Doncic’s addition, and he’s reportedly embraced an off-ball role as per a conversation with Jonathan Tjarks, but at 6-foot-3, it would be irresponsible to expect him to transition to shooting guard full-time.

No, for the Mavericks to finally return to the postseason and reestablish themselves as a team to watch in the West, the organization needs to fill out their roster with players who better fit in with Doncic’s style of play.

While it’s never nice to move on from a lottery pick player before his rookie contract even expires, especially when they’re playing above their draft position, the Mavericks have struck absolute gold in Doncic and must accordingly shift their focus to his development above virtually all else.

Which brings us back to the Sixers.

In 2017, the 76ers had an opportunity to select Smith third overall in the draft but obviously went a different direction, trading up to pick Markelle Fultz first overall at the cost of a pair of (then) future firsts. However, it’s not like the team did so because they disliked Smith.

Far from it actually.

According to ESPN’s Ian Begley (via Liberty Ballers), members of the 76ers brass were big fans the Wolfpack’s 6-foot-3 floor general. Now, who these members are are unknown, as for all we know they could have been someone like Bryan Colangelo who has long since moved on from the organization, but after watching DSJ play well over his first 100ish games in the NBA, it seems incredibly unlikely that that admiration would have been squelched.

No, if Philly liked Smith then, they should really like him now, as he’s shown a very intriguing skill set that could fit incredibly well with the team’s current starting five.

This season, the 76ers are averaging only about 46.7 points a game in the paint (20th overall), with the lion’s share of that production coming from Joel Embiid.  While this stat isn’t necessarily indicative of wins, as the Golden State Warriors currently rank dead last in paint points per game, when a team’s outside shooting is off, as so often happens for the 76ers, having players who can drive to the basket and score an easy two around the rim can be a big momentum shifter.

Outside of Embiid, Simmons, Jimmy Butler and (occasionally) backup point T.J. McConnell, the Sixers really don’t have a lot of drivers on their roster.

DSJ is a certified assassin around the basket.

Known for his wide array of creative dunks, Smith averages about 7.1 of his 11 shots a night within the arc, including an average of 4.5 shots a night from within five feet of the basket. That clip would rank fourth on the Sixers current roster, behind their Big 3.

While Smith’s offensive ingenuity could be helpful for the 76ers moving forward, both as a driver and as a spot-up shooter, that’s not the only aspect of his game that could help the team moving forward.

Though Smith is far from a lock-down defensive stopper, he’s improved considerably from last season to this, raising his defensive Real Plus-Minus numbers almost two points from -2.17 to -0.46. But he doesn’t have to be an elite, Marcus Smart-esque stopper to be an upgrade for the Sixers backcourt defense, he really just has to be a guard. Because of the 76ers’ bizarro three forward starting lineup, a player like Simmons, Butler, or Wilson Chandler will always have to cover down a position, opening up mismatches that a smart coach/playmaker can exploit with ease.

Smith, on the other hand, is a guard-sized guard, and one of the more athletic ones in the entire league.

Sure, his defensive game could use some work, as highlighted by J.J. Redick‘s ability to work his early in the 76ers-Mavericks game, but DSJ has all of the physical tools needed to become a more than solid two-way guard, one with experience playing both on and off the ball alongside an NBA unicorn.

But what about the price? Sure, both parties would probably love to make a deal if the price was correct, but what exactly is that price? Would Dallas accept the 76ers’ 2019 first round pick, the Miami Heat’s 2021 unprotected pick and a player like European shooter Furkan Korkmaz for DSJ’s services? Or would the Mavs also want to package in someone like Dwight Powell and his $10 million 2019 contract to free up cap room next year? If that’s the case, a player like Chandler could help to facilitate a move, and give both teams a more scheme-appropriate addition to their starting five.

Next. Luka Doncic is a better fit with Joel Embiid than Ben Simmons. dark

We may never know, but if Smith does become available and the price isn’t, like, Embiid and five firsts, it may be the move that finally completes the Process. With three more cost controlled years on his contract, if the Philadelphia 76ers believe that Dennis Smith Jr. could be the missing piece to a championship formula, they should make a move sooner, rather than later to bring him to town full-time.