To the dismay of many Timberwolves fans, trade rumors about point guard Ricky Rubio have resurfaced. The longest tenured player on the Timberwolves may be on his way out of Minnesota come draft night. Many have reported that New York Knicks point guard Derrick Rose is once again drawing interest from the Timberwolves as head coach Tom Thibodeau coached Rose in his 2011 MVP season with the Bulls.
Since his MVP season, Rose has fallen victim to chronic knee injuries sitting out more games than he has played in. Not exactly the type of player Timberwolves fans would feel comfortable about leading their young core of center Karl-Anthony Towns, small forward Andrew Wiggins and shooting guard Zach LaVine.
If the Timberwolves are indeed in the market for a new point guard, a potential game changer may be available to them at the seventh overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft; North Carolina State point guard Dennis Smith Jr. Let’s take a look at Smith’s strengths, weaknesses and fit with the Timberwolves.
Smith is already a fantastic playmaker and is great at running the pick n’ roll, which is ideal for him coming into the NBA. He is unpredictable in how he attacks pick n’ rolls and keeps the defense guessing on how to guard him. All three videos below show different ways in which smith can convert in a pick n’ roll situation.
He is comfortable weaving through traffic in the paint as well as stroking a three pointer off the dribble. Smith isn’t just a scorer. As a freshman for the Wolfpack, Smith led the ACC with 6.2 assists per game and finished eighth in scoring with 18.1 points per game. Smith also shot 36 percent from beyond the arc. Below are Smith’s highlights from NC State’s victory against Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Notice his ability to blow by defenders on the way to the rim and his confidence shooting from outside.
The problem for Smith isn’t getting by defenders, it’s finishing over them once he gets there. Smith is listed at 6’2″ with a wingspan of only 6’0″. If Smith is already having trouble finishing over the top of defenders in college, he will certainly struggle against bigger NBA players. Below are a couple of examples of Smith getting by his defender, only to have his shot blocked at the rim because of his lack of size.
While Smith isn’t quite the magician Rubio is distributing the basketball, he is more athletic than Rubio and could easily become more of a threat to score. Athleticism at the point guard position is something the majority of the NBA already has, but has been absent from the Timberwolves in recent years.
Another plus for Smith is how high his potential is. Smith was ranked as the number four overall recruit in the 2016 high school class by ESPN, but suffered a torn ACL forcing him to miss his entire senior season. While he was phenomenal as a freshman at North Carolina State, Smith acknowledged in a TV interview with ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas, that while he does feel healthy, he still isn’t 100 percent recovered from his injury.
Like many players coming back from a major knee surgery, Smith likely didn’t have absolute confidence in his knee and didn’t yet have all of his athleticism back from before his injury. Prior to his knee injury, Smith’s athleticism was shocking and likely contributed to him being ranked as an elite high school recruit. Take a look at Smith’s athleticism in high school prior to his ACL injury.
The point of showing his high school and AAU mixtape is not to show him dominating inferior competition, it is to highlight just how athletic Smith was and can become again.
If Smith is able to retain the leaping ability he possessed prior to his knee injury, it will certainly help him finish against larger defenders in the NBA. Lineups featuring Smith alongside the trio of Towns, Wiggins and LaVine would give the the Timberwolves a lethal combination of athleticism, shooting and shot creating that almost no other team in the NBA would have.
Logan Metzger is a contributor to HowlinTwolf.com. Follow him on Twitter:@loganmetzger33