This is a completely serious question.
During the recent college football season, a few star college football players decided to skip playing in bowl games to protect their draft status. Certainly a devastating injury in your final college game could severely hurt those players that have solidifed their draft status. While other players still needing to play their way higher in the draft might see the bowl game as yet another opportunity to improve their draft stock. Leonard Fournette of LSU and Christian McCaffrey of Standford both decided to sit out their team’s respective bowl games. Both players are projected to go in the early rounds of the draft(1st), so why bother risking that status by playing 1 more meaningless bowl game…especially since both play running back which puts them at a higher risk of serious injury than some of the other positions on the field?
With Fournette, he now claims it wasn’t his decision. That’s right, he now claims that it was his coach who would not allow him to play because he had a lot on the line.
Which brings me to the amazing Dennis Smith Jr and the NC State basketball season that without a miraculous turnaround will end without an NCAA tournament appearance for the 2nd straight season. I have watched a lot of ACC basketball in my life. I can remember games and players going back to the late 1970s. Honestly, I can’t remember many players at any position as talented as DSJ. As far as point guards, there were Kenny Anderson, Steve Francis Jr, Jason(now Jay) Williams, and Chris Paul that I remember as some of the best. There have been a lot of others, but I am trying to focus on guys who projected as NBA all-star type of players. “Can’t miss” guys. Guys who had the athleticism, skills, range on their shot, and size that made them almost sure things at the next level.
How does DSJ compare to those guys? Obviously, he fits right into that group and in some ways may actually be the best overall combination of athleticism, size and basketball skills that has ever come out of ACC at the point guard position. He has handles, quickness, range on his shot, vision, a feel for the game, etc…In terms of explosiveness he is simply off the charts. He is projected as a top 5 pick in the upcoming NBA draft. He has nothing left to prove. There isn’t a snowball’s chance in Hell he is coming back for 1 more season. Why would he? He would have almost nothing to gain and everything to lose. We all have known he was a “1 and done” player coming in and he has even surpassed my wildest expectations. His talent and potential are so great that nobody should even allow him to return to NC State for a 2nd season even if he wanted to. He is a special talent that has to move on to the NBA.
So that brings me back to the question should Mark Gottfried, Dennis Smith, Jr or some other person involved in his future start seriously considering shutting him down for the rest of the year? If we were talking about a center that mostly plays with his feet on the floor and rarely attacks the rim at full speed in a game, then there is less risk of injury. But Dennis Smith Jr plays the game like no other point guard I have ever seen in the ACC. In the Miami game, when he got stuck with his dribble and threw it off the backboard to himself and almost pulled it off for a slam my jaw dropped. It would have been one of the most amazing plays I have ever seen in an ACC game. It was simply ridiculous and I have no doubt he will do that in his career in the future. Remember the dunk againt Duke? Or the many other dunks and finishes at the rim that he has pulled off this year displaying once in a generation athleticism and explosiveness? It is scary at times. So scary that it would be devastating to see him suffer a major injury at State in a season that seems already lost.
Obviously, we all know DSJ has suffered one ACL injury last year. We all know he has discussed several times this year that he feels he isn’t 100% yet. So with a season likely headed towards missing the NCAAs and maybe even missing the NIT, at what point as the losses mount do you have to protect Dennis Smith Jr’s future and sit him for the rest of the season? DSJ trusted Mark Gottfried with positioning him for the NBA draft. Does Mark Gottfried owe it to DSJ to protect him once the season reaches the point of no return(already has in my opinion) like Leonard Fournette’s head coach at LSU? There may even be benefits to the program as it would give Markell Johnson more minutes at PG as he is obviously DSJ’s replacement for next season. Not only for Johnson, but it would have a trickle down effect because there would be more opportunity for all of the other players on the roster to develop as well. Also, with 8 games remaining it gives Gottfried an excuse to return for year 7 in case of a total collapse down the stretch. Maybe sitting DSJ actually helps Gottfried keep his job and then return to the NCAA’s next season as his seat will be scorching hot in year 7.
What would you do if you were Gottfried or DSJ?