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"I kept hearing [about] somebody named Dirt" — Dennis Smith Jr. on his first memory of Dallas Mavericks legend Dirk Nowitzki

Dennis Smith Jr. was one of the lucky ones who became teammates with Dirk Nowitzki.
Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki (41) and guard Dennis Smith Jr. (1)

Dirk Nowitzki and Dennis Smith Jr.

Before NBA players stepped foot in the league, they were diehard basketball fans like the rest of us. Before Dennis Smith Jr. was picked 9th overall by the Dallas Mavericks in 2017, he had heard of franchise legend Dirk Nowitzki, although he thought the German had a different first name.

Big Dirt

Smith Jr. was born in 1997. This means that by the mid-2000s, he could already make sense of the things he was watching. Like any soon-to-be-baller, Smith was tuned in to NBA games. He heard of some guy named Dirt Nowitzki. At first, he was apprehensive that he had a weird name. But then his apprehension turned into admiration.

"Earliest memory of Dirk, is probably a year he was playing with Steve Nash. I kept hearing [about] somebody named Dirt – like with a T. So, I’m like, ‘Why is a dude named Dirt in the league?’ … Then I found out he was actually pretty good, so I started watching him," Smith said.

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Smith got a chance to team up with Nowitzki for a season and a half. The German was on the tail-end of his career at that time. But given Nowitzki’s wealth of experience and stature in the game, it was invaluable for Smith to sit alongside one of the greatest to ever lace them up.

Dennis Smith Jr’s career trajectory

Smith was in line to be a great player for the Mavericks. But there were several things that were out of his control, which included Luka Doncic’s rise, that forced him to leave Dallas. He then became a journeyman of sorts. He donned several jerseys: New York Knicks, Detroit Pistons, Portland Trail Blazers, and now, he’s wearing the Charlotte Hornets threads.

It’s been an odd and tough journey for someone who was picked 9th overall. But this is how it goes in the NBA. Nothing is guaranteed, even for talented prospects like Smith. Fortunately, Smith is experiencing a resurgence in his young career. With the Hornets, he’s had a number of good games.

His offense remains reliable but still lacks consistency. The thing Smith improved on was his on-ball defense. And in the NBA, whenever you’re stellar on defense, you’re valued by your team.

Time will only tell if Smith can indeed come back from being almost booted out of the NBA to a bona fide star or at least a legitimate role player. He definitely has the talent and athleticism. It’s just a matter of putting in the extra work.

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