Knicks guard Dennis Smith Jr. might have a fan in Tom Thibodeau.
Minnesota ended up using their 7th overall pick in that draft to trade for Jimmy Butler. Smith Jr. later went to Dallas, one pick after the Knicks took Frank Ntilikina.
Thibodeau will get a chance to coach both Ntilikina and Smith Jr. as he takes over as head coach of the Knicks, although some have speculated that both players could find themselves elsewhere before next season begins, whenever that should be given the realities of the pandemic.
When David Fizdale was hired as head coach of the Knicks in 2018, he infamously targeted another struggling former lottery pick during his press conference introduction, putting his arm around Emmanuel Mudiay, who played some of his best basketball, albeit on a low scale, under the former New York bench chief.
It will be interesting to see if Thibodeau’s interest in Smith Jr. has carried over since the young guard entered the league and has struggled to translate his tantalizing athleticism into positive NBA results.
The North Carolina State product has one year remaining on his rookie scale contract. The Knicks can offer him an extension before the season begins, but it seems more likely they would be offering him up in trades than trying to sign him to additional years.
Arriving in the Kristaps Porzingis trade in February 2019, Smith Jr. has regressed off an already mediocre start to his career. This past season was his worst as a pro, as he struggled to shoot the basketball while battling personal issues (a death in his family) and several injuries (oblique and concussion).
Thibodeau had his greatest success with an athletic guard in Derrick Rose leading the Chicago Bulls. Perhaps he can share some lessons from his time working with the former MVP.