Las Vegas – Dennis Smith Jr. What the Nets are getting is a completely different version than the Knicks saw.
He entered the league – and the Garden – as an offensive-minded lottery pick.
But years, injuries and tough times have made him mature.
Now Brooklyn is getting a defensive-minded, minimum-salary player, a recapture project he’s fighting for every minute on the court — and is happy to do so.
“Very different,” Smith said on the sidelines of the Nets’ Summer League win over his former team on Sunday. “I matured, I got better every year, I learned something every year. I am grateful for everything that has happened to me since I was in the league because I would not be the player or person that I am today. So it’s like night and day, very close.”
Smith, who said the Nets called him up on the first day of the free-agency period, signed a one-year, $2,528,233 guaranteed deal and has a chance to play a role.
Spencer Dinwiddie is the undisputed starter at point guard.
But Ben Simmons was sidelined last season with back problems and nerve injuries, his ongoing recovery ruling him out of next month’s FIBA World Cup.
The Nets extended Edmund Sumner’s contract guarantee date to July 15 and did not count on Cam Thomas.
Will all three contribute? None? Answer that and it could determine whether Smith plays a big role, a small one, or none at all.
“I have to come in like everybody else and earn my minutes. It is equal to my brand. Nothing has been given to me. So I’m looking forward to it,” Smith said, as he looked at the roster and saw opportunity.
“Yeah, I thought about it a few weeks before I had the call with him. So whenever he was on call with me my enthusiasm matched his, so it’s a place where I can see myself and it worked out perfectly.
Smith was a top 10 pick in 2017 and joined the Knicks from Dallas in the Kristaps Porzingis trade.
He played well in 21 games – all but three of them – averaging 14.7 points and 5.4 assists.
But it was the next season when things went awry in the Garden.
The point guard had to deal with back injuries and inconsistent play that was made worse by the death of his stepmother and boos from the Garden crowd.
But in the years since, he has reinvented himself as a defensive player, bouncing from Detroit to Portland and Charlotte.
“It actually started a little before Charlotte. It’s quite a film study,” Smith said. “And just my minutes were taken away from me, I was trying to figure out different ways to get on the court, whenever my role was reduced it affected the game. So did a lot of film study, checked my ego at the door and it worked for me.
Smith has learned from the negatives to the positives, missing the final 19 games of 2020-21 with a knee injury, then suffering a UCL injury in Portland in 2021-22.
He learned to defend and it fits into Brooklyn’s new DNA.
“I think we’ve got a good group of guys. We’re not too young, not too old, and I don’t think it’s going to be an ego problem for our team this year. Everyone looks like they are committed to winning and playing the right way,” said Smith, teaming up with former Dallas teammate Dorian Finney-Smith on the Nets unit that should defend well.
“So it was a bit easy for me to make the choice. Like I said, whatever is happening with the players they have, it depends on how I look at the game and how I want to play it.