Dennis Smith Jr. is looking for a role in the Hornets’ backcountry

With only a few days left before training camp begins, the Charlotte Hornets have added more depth to their backcourt rotation with the signing of former lottery guard Dennis Smith Jr.

A Fayetteville native who played his only collegiate season in NC State, Smith averaged 5.6 points on 41.8% shots, 2.4 rebounds, and 3.6 assists, and scored a career high of 1.2 in 37 games — four starts — last season in Portland. He suffered what eventually became an elbow injury in mid-February and was released shortly thereafter.

Smith was originally drafted to ninth overall by Dallas in 2017 and provided 15.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 1.0 steals for his first season, earning an All-Rookie Second-Team honor. He traded in New York as part of the Kristaps Porzingis deal in January of 2019, then was dealt again in Detroit in February of 2021 before signing with Portland last September.

Gifted with exciting athleticism – he is said to have scored a vertical 48 inches during a pre-draft workout – Smith’s shortcomings mainly centered on some of the offense’s shortcomings. He is a professional 40.2% shooter, 44.2% on 2-point attempts (45.1% last season), 31.2% on 3-point attempts and 65.2% from the free throw streak. Most recently, he has worked to become a defender with a defensive mindset, a defender on the ball of good size (6’2″ and 205 lbs) and physical strength.

Smith scored a 0.73 point average drop per game last season (6 out of 27, 22.2% total), so he appears to be phasing out this component of his game. Taking advantage of his agility and speed to blast away from defenders and reach the basket is his best way to score now, as evidenced by his encouraging 53.9% conversion rate in the restricted area (48-of-89) last season.

For reference, the LaMelo Ball shot 54.0% in the restricted area (170 out of 315) over the course of the 2021-22 campaign. Terry Rosier scored 59.9% (154 of 257) from this area and James Bucknight had 47.4% (27 of 57).

According to CleaningtheGlass.com, Smith finished in 98th placeThe tenth The percentage of shots taken on the edge last season (52%) relative to his position. It has also progressed in the gaming industry in recent years – it ranked 92Street Percentage in Help-to-Use Ratio (1.45) and 91Street Percentage in Help (31.2%) while using Trail Blazers. Another interesting number associated with Smith is the 14.8% false draw rate in shot attempts, which is good for 97The tenth percentage.

The Hornets don’t currently have a clear reserve guard on the roster, so Smith definitely has a chance to put his foot in the door. Paul and Rosier as head coach rotated between Units 1 and 2 for much of the season. This dynamic eventually became unsustainable as the calendar continued, resulting in the signing of Isaiah Thomas.

There’s still a long way to go, but running the lineup of Paul, three guards, Rosier and Smith, might be an interesting spinning wrinkle for Hornets coach Steve Clifford to merge. During the final season of his first tour in Charlotte, Clifford juggled similar squads including Kimba Walker, Malik Monk and Jeremy Lamb.

Still only 24 years old (he will turn 25 in November), Smith has been looking to fit in after jumping all over the league for the past few seasons. Perhaps, if all goes well, he will find it again in his home state where his basketball journey first began.

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