NY Knicks: Can Tom Thibodeau save Dennis Smith Jr.’s career?

Dennis Smith Jr, New York Knicks (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
Dennis Smith Jr, New York Knicks (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images) /

Dennis Smith Jr. could find a resurgence under New York Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau.

The New York Knicks have hired Tom Thibodeau as their next head coach. He will have his hands full with a roster that lacks talent and contains many question marks about their young core. One such player is Dennis Smith Jr., who has done very little since being traded to the Knicks. This could be a make or break year for the young point guard.

Smith Jr. averaged only 5.5 points last year, a career low and a 8-9 point drop off from his previous campaign. One thing that hurt him was his health: he missed many games early in the season and never recovered.

I remember last training camp there was buzz about DSJ looking sharp and ready to take the starting point guard job. Fast forward to this summer, and his role with the organization is uncertain. He played in only 34 games and averaged 15.8 minutes per night for a team that won only 21 games.

The most glaring weakness was his lack of trust in his jump-shot, making only 30% of his threes and shooting 34% from the field, overall. You could see that he looked lost and lacked confidence. On too many possessions he would dribble the air out of the basketball, or would pass up available jump shots. The tools and skill-set are there for him to be a productive NBA player, but he may need another offseason to get that confidence back.

Could Tom Thibodeau’s offense help Dennis Smith Jr.?

Thibs has been called the point guard whisperer. He has had success coaching Derrick Rose, DJ Augustin, Ricky Rubio and even Nate Robinson. All of those guys had their best years under Thibodeau.

The workaholic coach leans heavily on his point guards and asks them to initiate his offense. DSJ has some of the Rose mold, but isn’t much of a threat from the outside, using his immense speed and athleticism to get into the paint.

Can Thibs get DSJ to be aggressive again?

I think he will try to get him in more pick-and-roll situations to use his speed to his advantage. I also think under Fizdale the Knicks did not really run a set offense, which should be a major change under Thibs, who knows how to draw up plays to highlight players’ strengths.

Thibodeau created his offense around Rose and I think he can do same for DSJ. The athletic guard thrives in the open court and out of the pick-and-roll. Anytime he can be the guy the with ball in his hands, it plays to his strengths and hides his lack of a perimeter game.

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Thibodeau has had some good success with reviving point guard’s careers in the past. For all the talk of being a defensive guru, he has had very good offensive teams as well. With Thibodeau running the helm, it might be DSJ’s best chance to succeed in the NBA and perhaps his last shot to be a starter.