Phoenix Suns Draft Watch: Dennis Smith

Feb 8, 2017; Tallahassee, FL, USA; North Carolina State Wolfpack guard Dennis Smith (4) dribbles against the Florida State Seminoles during the second half at the Donald L. Tucker Center. Florida State won 95-71. Mandatory Credit: Glenn Beil-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 8, 2017; Tallahassee, FL, USA; North Carolina State Wolfpack guard Dennis Smith (4) dribbles against the Florida State Seminoles during the second half at the Donald L. Tucker Center. Florida State won 95-71. Mandatory Credit: Glenn Beil-USA TODAY Sports /

The draft watch continues this week with one of the most intriguing players in this draft: Dennis Smith

Player Comparison

The freshman guard from North Carolina State University is compared by to the Los Angeles Clippers’ future Hall of Fame guard Chris Paul and to the Knicks’ Derrick Rose. The Wolfpack star is producing a well-rounded 18.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 6.9 assists per game in an extremely competitive Atlantic Coast Conference. Smith’s propensity to steal the ball helps drive the lofty comparisons, averaging 2.1 steals per game.

Smith is posting better numbers than either Rose or Paul did in college.  Paul, also an ACC product at Wake Forest, had averages of 14.8 points, 3.3 rebounds, 5.9 assists, and 2.7 steals as a freshman. Derrick Rose 14.9 points, 4.5 rebounds, 4.7 assists, and 1.2 steals as a freshman at Memphis.

Smith is physically similar to Rose with the same kind of explosive first step and ability to leap. He is a full 20lbs heavier than Paul was in college and three inches taller. The comparison with Paul is primarily based on his ability to distribute the ball by baiting off-the-ball defenders into protecting against his shot making ability and leaving their man unguarded.

Smith is a volume shooter who depends more on the threat of his three-point shot to create space than he does on athleticism. Where Rose took 2.6 three point attempts per game, Smith takes an astounding 4.7. Despite the higher shot volume, Smith makes 38% of his threes compared to Rose’s 33%.  Both are far less effective than the 46% that Paul made while shooting 2.8 threes a game.

Smith is a less efficient version of Chris Paul blessed with the gift of Derick Rose’s body though slightly less athletic.

Why the Suns Would Want Him

The Suns would want to draft Smith if they end up with the fourth or fifth overall pick.  The case for Smith is very similar to that of Ball or Fultz in that it gives the team the back court of the future, helps mitigate against the defensive weakness of Booker, and allows them to trade Bledsoe and/or Knight for future assets.

The hope in drafting Smith is that the Suns get a younger and taller version of Eric Bledsoe.  The fit with Booker would be much the same as the fit on the current team.  As Booker continues to develop he will need to take on more of the ball handling responsibilities on the offensive end.

This will allow the point guard to have more energy to play defense and maximize his three-point potential. Smith could become a solid candidate to compliment Booker’s growth. His high three-point shooting percentage along with the ability to slash will work well when Booker is the primary ball handler.  When it is Smith’s turn to handle the ball, he is more than capable of making the offense work.

Smith has intangibles that also would help the team. Hailing from the Army town of Fayetteville, North Carolina, he is a tough player who likes to compete and chatter on the court. As P.J. Tucker’s verbal leadership ages out of the team, Smith can be an emotional presence that helps galvanize a young team.

Why the Suns Would Not Want Him

Small guards who love to explode around the rim have a long history of being injury prone. Smith is no different. He lost his senior year of high school to an ACL injury. He has recovered to have a fantastic freshman year of college, but the risk for re-occurrence is high, similar to Bledsoe, Rose, and Paul. There’s a good chance that any team who drafts Smith will lose him for at least a year or two throughout his career. The odds that he can become an injury bust are also high.

Smith is not a natural fit with the Suns current young core. He is a scoring guard who frequently tries to bounce the air out of the ball while looking for a shot. A streaky shooter who will play down to lesser competition; his on-court demeanor resembles former Pistons guard Chauncey Billups in that he plays big in big moments but struggles to be consistent.

The Suns may also decide that they would be better off to continue to lean on their existing solid point guard play while taking a risk on another high upside prospect who can help the team round out its defense like Jonathan Isaac or Jayson Tatum.


Drafting Smith is a high-risk, status quo return kind of pick. The new point guard would look much like the existing point guard. That is not the kind of franchise changing player that the Suns need to reach a championship. This pick gives the Suns more leverage in finding a trade partner for Bledsoe with the hope that they can get a Dragic style return (two lightly protected future firsts). That kind of return might eventually add the missing piece, or pieces the team needs years from now.

There is still a chance that Smith exceeds expectations in the way that Rose did in Chicago early in his career. Premier point guard play of that kind could shift the Suns rebuild around Smith and while that might stunt Booker’s growth, it could enhance Warren, Len, Chriss, and Bender.

If the Suns are forced to pick outside of the top-three selections they will listen to all offers. If Smith is the best player available at their selection, they will be happy. However, this will put the pressure on McDonough to maximize the return on Bledsoe and the expectations for Smith will be enormous. In the end, those kinds of pressures seems to bring out the best in Smith which just might make this risk pay off better than expected.

For more on possible Phoenix Suns draft picks, read below for potentials:

#1 – Markelle Fultz

#2 – Lonzo Ball

#3 – Josh Jackson