LOS ANGELES — Dennis Smith Jr. quite literally jumps out when you watch him play. His game is laced with prodigious explosion — a lethal first step and a signature crossover beget the ability to levitate, all of which produces jaw-dropping highlights on a nightly basis.
At just 21 years old with two years of professional experience under his belt, the North Carolina State product was expected to be a cornerstone piece for the Dallas Mavericks, which selected him ninth overall in the 2017 NBA Draft. But after the team got prized rookie Luka Doncic one year later, Smith was eventually shipped to New York, a major moment in his young career that could prove to be monumental, especially if he’s running the point for a Knicks squad that receives a serious injection of talent this offseason.
With an eventful second NBA season in the books, Smith already has his eye on what will come next. But first, the talented guard is at the BAIT “Fight Klub” pop up in Los Angeles for the Mortal Kombat 11 launch party and to show off his Under Armor Basketball Anatomix Spawn “Sub-Zero” edition. They’re especially relevant for Smith, who fancies himself a killer on the court and relishes the chance to finish opponents.
Dime sat down with Smith to discuss maturing on the court, playing with a chip on his shoulder, and the transition from Dallas to New York. We also played a little Mortal Kombat 11, and while it was a good time, Smith won every game.
Dime: Players who want to take over in big spots are usually born with that characteristic and mold it over their careers. Since your days at North Carolina State, you’ve proved to be from that mold. What goes into that for you?
Dennis Smith Jr.: I think it’s definitely something that you’ve got to work at. It’s the mentality of your game, through a lot of the things that you do, whether it’s strength and conditioning, playing with older people, or just being a smaller guy, it’s something that you gain over time.
How about heart?
A lot of it. A lot of it.