LAS VEGAS — Dennis Smith Jr. watched the free-agent market play out without a star coming to the Knicks, then spent the day at the team’s practice Saturday watching the young players on the roster. And it was enough for him to make a bold proclamation.
“I think we can hit the playoffs,” Smith said. “Everybody does a lot of talking and things like that. I never really been one to feed into it on social media and things like that. But I think we have a really good team, and especially with the way I’ve been working this summer, I think I’m going to take my game to the next level and it’s going to put us in the playoffs.”
If Smith did feed into the social media scene, he might see that he doesn’t have a lot of company in that assessment. But he believes that his improvement — he has retooled his shot after shooting only 28.9 percent from three-point range after joining the Knicks — will start things, and he is a huge fan of Julius Randle.
Smith was at Knicks practice at a high school far off the Las Vegas Strip, sweating through a workout with assistant coach Royal Ivey. He returns to the Knicks with the experience of his three months with the team last season and a summer working with another assistant coach, Keith Smart. He believes that is enough to prove he is ready to ascend to another level.
Asked if he thinks this could be the season in which he justifies being chosen ninth in the 2017 NBA Draft, he said, “Yeah. I think it is. I honestly felt like I was supposed to be 1. Probably like everybody else in the class. I feel like that this the perfect time to come out and prove why I feel that way.”