After rookie Dennis Smith Jr. had another impressive game for the Mavericks — scoring 21 points on 50 percent shooting along with seven assists, two blocks and two steals in a loss to the Cavaliers — LeBron James said Smith “should be a Knick.”
“The Knicks passed on a really good one,” James said. “Dallas got the diamond in the rough. He should be a Knick. That’s gonna make some headlines but he should be a Knick. Dallas is definitely excited that he didn’t go there.
“He’s an unbelievable talent, athleticism. He’s very poised to be his age, can shoot the ball, penetrate; can only get better and better with the opportunity that he’s getting here to play. So Dallas got a good one. I’ve been known that, I’ve been with him for so long now, so I’ve been knowing his talent level.”
The Knicks, a team with a glaring need at the point guard position entering the summer, held the No. 8 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, and many projected them to select either Smith out of North Carolina State or Malik Monk out of Kentucky. Instead, New York selected French point guard Frank Ntilikina, while Smith fell to Dallas at No. 9 and Monk to Charlotte at No. 11.
So far, Smith is averaging 14.8 points on 41 percent shooting from the field and 29.4 percent shooting from three, along with 5.1 assists and 3.7 rebounds. Ntilikina is averaging 4.4 points on 34 percent field-goal shooting and 25 percent shooting from downtown, along with 5.0 assists and 1.6 steals per game.
Ntilikina also missed Summer League with a minor knee injury and missed some preseason with an ankle injury at practice.
The Knicks responded by backing their rookie
Of course New York backed the player who actually ended up on their team.
"I mean, I don't know why he made those comments, but all I can say is we love Frank, we're happy with him," Kristaps Porzingis told reporters Sunday. "He's doing a great job. He's playing great, and he's doing what he's supposed to. And I would not change Frank for anybody. Simple."
Ntilikina was always seen as a prospect who would need more development than Smith, and it’s no surprise that he’s being outplayed early on. Obviously, only time will tell which prospect proves to be the better one in the league.
When asked, Ntilikina didn’t address the situation head on, only choosing to say this.
"I think in life people can think whatever they want," Ntilikina said. "However, it's not gonna affect us and me, so whatever is said, whatever people think, me and the team are just focused on what we're doing every day to improve and just to make us better."
LeBron’s been wrong on rookies before
LeBron is undoubtedly in the running for best player of all-time, but LeBron the college scout struck out more times than he hit home runs.
If you recall, James was incredibly high on ex-UConn stud Shabazz Napier. In fact, after the Hornets drafted Napier 24th, LeBron tweeted his approval, which prompted then-Heat management to deal two picks for the rookie.
James was also high on Ben McLemore, whom the Kings drafted in 2013.
They sleeping on Ben McLemore. Just watch— LeBron James (@KingJames) June 28, 2013
McLemore averaged 9.4 points on 41.7 percent shooting over four years in Sacramento. He signed a two-year, $10.7 million deal with the Grizzlies this summer.
What’s all this mean? Well, a LeBron James rookie endorsement isn’t the end all be all. And no matter which side of the Ntilikina-Smith fence you’re on, only time will tell whether the Knicks made the right decision.