Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James got his first on-court look at Dallas Mavericks rookie guard Dennis Smith Jr., and based upon his postgame remarks it’s safe to say that James thought highly of the rookie. While effusive in his praise of Smith, James also slid in a remark that the NC State product should be a member of the New York Knicks.
Instead of selecting Smith in June’s NBA Draft the Knicks took guard Frank Ntilikina with the eighth pick, and one day before the Knicks and Cavaliers meet at Madison Square Garden, fellow Knicks defended their teammate.
“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,” forward Kristaps Porzingis told reporters after the Knicks’ practice on 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.”
While Porzingis was more diplomatic regarding James’ comments, center Enes Kanter viewed the statement that Smith should be a Knick as disrespectful of Ntilikina.
“I don’t care who, I just cannot let anyone disrespect my family like that, because when I play for an organization, I see my teammates and that organization as like a family,” Kanter told reporters on Sunday. “And it doesn’t matter if it’s LeBron or whoever it is, I cannot just let him disrespect him like that. The coaches, the GMs, the president, this organization knows what they’re doing. … I mean, come on. That’s a rookie. You cannot just say anything like that about him.
“I don’t care, it doesn’t matter LeBron or whoever it is. I don’t care who. I cannot let anyone disrespect my family like that.”
Through 10 games this season Ntilikina is averaging 4.4 points, 5.0 assists and 1.9 rebounds per game, numbers that aren’t on par with those of Smith Jr. Yet while Smith Jr. is averaging 14.8 points, 5.1 assists and 3.8 rebounds per game for the Mavericks, he’s in a different position with the Mavericks as he was immediately inserted into the starting lineup while Ntilikina is still coming off the bench.
The two players are going to be linked for quite some time — possibly for the remainder of their respective careers — resulting in conversations like this one. And with Ntilikina having 10 games under his belt and Smith Jr. 12, there’s a long way to go before answering definitively which team drafted the better guard.