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Knicks' Dennis Smith wants to prove he can do more than just score

Knicks guard Dennis Smith Jr. dribbles the ball

Knicks guard Dennis Smith Jr. dribbles the ball up court against the Washington Wizards during the first half of an NBA basketball game at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, April 7, 2019. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

GREENBURGH, N.Y.  — Before the Knicks ever got on the practice floor Sunday afternoon they had to sit through a long compilation of video, detailing all of the problems from Friday night’s ugly preseason performance against the Washington Wizards. Dennis Smith Jr. watched that game from the sideline, but he took in the critiques and then for the first time in more than a week, took the floor for a full practice to try to get the team back on track.

On a team devoid of star power, Smith is hoping to take a step forward this season, and now recovered from the lower back strain that sidelined him for the first two preseason games, he hopes to show it on the floor.

“I’m really big on earning your keep,” Smith said. “I like to pay my dues and earn everybody’s respect. I don’t like it to be given to me. For me to be able to work out with these guys in the summertime, I went down to Florida, got some work in with [Marcus Morris], came up here, got some work in here with these guys. I got work in everywhere. I feel like I paid my dues this summer. I earned the team’s respect. Now it’s all about going out there and putting it together.”

Part of that is needed because the Knicks gave up the franchise centerpiece, Kristaps Porzingis, to bring him to New York, along with the cap space that has yet to materialize into the star they believed it could bring. And part of it is because Smith is intent on proving that he is not just a highlight film player, but a true point guard.

“I got better at it,” Smith said. “What’s so funny is I don’t even know where the story came from that I’m trying to score all the time. You know what I’m saying.

“Yeah, because I can, but I never got where that came from. I feel like this year we got some really good pieces around us for our team, some guys that can really score the ball, so I feel like it’s easy to set these guys up.”

"Everything I asked him to be better at I felt like he was showing signs of being better at,” coach David Fizdale said of Smith’s work this offseason before being sidelined. “Whether it was his conditioning, his shooting or getting us organized and making plays for other people. Hopefully, we can keep that going and pick up where he left off.

“I feel like he can be a point guard. And you’ve got to remember, in our league now, the point guard spot is a scoring position. I think it’s more scoring points now than it is distributors. He fits that mold of being a scoring point guard.”

The Knicks have three players competing for that starting spot — Smith, Elfrid Payton and Frank Ntilikina. Payton has struggled offensively in the first two preseason games, including an 0-for-9 performance Friday. Ntilikina has appeared more aggressive and adept at leading the team but has yet to prove to be an offensive weapon.

Smith said that he thinks he can fill that role, one that was hard to fit into after the midseason trade that brought him here.

“It was super tough, especially being in Dallas with a team that’s a lot older and then coming into our team with the Knicks last year,” Smith said. “Smooth waters never made a steady sailor, so it is what it is. I took the adversity head on and I’m looking forward to having a good year this year.”

Notes & quotes: Damyean Dotson practiced with contact and Fizdale said that he is progressing faster than expected and could possibly play this week. Kevin Knox was limited again with a strained right calf.

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