Dennis Smith, Jr. entered college basketball as one of the most hyped NC State prospects in recent memory. ACC media selected him as preseason Rookie of the Year, fifth in preseason Player of the Year and a preseason All-ACC First Team selection. The precocious point guard was expected to combine with veterans such as Abdul-Malik Abu, Beejay Anya, and Maverick Rowan to help the Wolfpack make a move up the pecking order of the ACC standings. And while NC State has won its first two games of the season — both home wins against mid-majors — Smith has struggled, averaging just 11.5 points per game on 27.3% shooting (0-of-7 from three-point range). Are Smith’s early issues just a sign of the steep learning curve of playing at a new level, or are his struggles caused by something else?
Smith’s shooting is clearly the first area on which to focus. The freshman is 6-of-22 from the field to start his career, and per Synergy Sports, has yet to make a spot-up jumper or score out of an isolation situation (0-of-8). He is quickly learning that college-level defense is quite a bit more physical and complicated than it was in high school. As a result, he is taking too many contested, off-the-dribble jumpers and bad shots when he penetrates too deeply into the lane. When he does find a good shot inside, he has also struggled to finish as the added physicality of the college game hs affected him. His shooting stroke should come around with additional open looks — one positive sign is that he has gone 11-of-13 from the line — but it is clear that the game still needs to slow down. Read the rest of this entry »