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Rick Carlisle says Mavs rookie Dennis Smith Jr. ‘gained steam’ into becoming leader

Rick Carlisle, Dennis Smith Jr.

Dennis Smith Jr. was considered one of the darkhorse candidates to take the Rookie of the Year award, but after the surprising runs of Ben Simmons and Donovan Mitchell, the Dallas Mavericks guard has gone under the radar — just another point guard in a poor-performing team.

Yet looking at his overall numbers, 15.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 5.1 assists per game spell plenty of promise for the North Carolina State product, who has struggled with his efficiency throughout the year, but has shot steadily over 42 percent in the past month-and-change.

Head coach Rick Carlisle noted the 20-year-old rookie has grown into his starting job over time, not hitting the rookie wall, but hurdling it as games went on.

“Most rookies lose steam as the year goes on, but he’s gained steam,” said Carlisle, according to Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News. “He’s become a real leader.”

Smith has plenty of room for growth, shooting a whisker shy of 40 percent from the floor and only 31.8 percent from deep, while barely cracking 70 percent from the foul line. His perimeter acumen, along with his shot selection will have to improve in the next few offseasons, but his ceiling looks as high as any other rookie from this talent-filled draft class.

The Fayetteville native has gifted fans some of the most impressive dunks over the course of this season, including this delicious bounce-to-the-oop slam in a surprising win over the Portland Trail Blazers, getting the cheers from the home crowd.