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Knicks Rumors: Tom Thibodeau 'Enamored' with Dennis Smith Jr. Before 2017 Draft

Blake SchusterAnalyst IISeptember 6, 2020

New York Knicks' Dennis Smith Jr. plays during an NBA basketball game against the Philadelphia 76ers, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Matt Slocum/Associated Press

The New York Knicks' hire of Tom Thibodeau this offseason should give at least one player at Madison Square Garden reason to perk up.

According to SNY.tv's Ian Begley, Thibodeau was previously "enamored" with guard Dennis Smith Jr. coming out of college and scouted him during the predraft process in 2017.

Smith would wind up falling to the Dallas Mavericks with the No. 9 pick as the then-Thibodeau-coached Minnesota Timberwolves swapped picks with the Chicago Bulls, landing the No. 16 overall selection as a result of the Jimmy Butler trade. The Bulls received the No. 7 pick from Minnesota in the deal and took Lauri Markkanen.

The point guard out of NC State spent parts of just two seasons with the Mavs while earning All-Rookie honors in 2017-18.

Smith averaged 15.2 points, 5.2 assists and 3.8 rebounds per game that season but has since seen his play decline sharply. During his 2019-20 campaign with the Knicks, Smith averaged 5.5 points and 2.9 assists in 15.8 minutes per game. He played 34 contests total and started just three—the lowest total of his career.

That's where Thibodeau's hiring in New York comes in.

Not only have the Knicks placed an emphasis on player development when building out Thibodeau's staff, but the head coach also has plenty of experience coaching point guards who have had to adjust their style of play as their careers have gone on.

From Derrick Rose to Zach LaVine to Ricky Rubio, Thibodeau has shown he can get the most out of his guards on both ends of the floor.

Smith could become the coach's latest project.

Still just 22 years old, Smith has plenty of basketball ahead of him. If Thibodeau can tap into his skill set and help him regain a rhythm in the NBA, it would count as a major win for the rebuilding Knicks—who could then either continue to develop a team around Smith or look to move him for more assets.

It's a low-risk, high-reward situation for Thibodeau. Few incoming head coaches are presented with that type of situation. Even fewer get to do so with a player they previously coveted.

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