DALLAS -- North Carolina State freshman point guard Dennis Smith Jr. was still available when the Mavericks came up at No. 9 in the NBA draft -- the same spot that led them to Dirk Nowitzki nearly 20 years ago.
Coach Rick Carlisle described "thunderous" applause in the Dallas draft room Thursday night. President of basketball operations Donnie Nelson may have lost count of the chest bumps.
"This is the guy that we were after," said Nelson, who said before the draft that point guard was the team's biggest need. "And if we would have drafted a lot higher, he was the guy that we had circled."
Carlisle projected Smith as a starter, with the obvious caveat that the job won't be handed to the 19-year-old who left the Wolfpack after his freshman season, barely a year removed from tearing a knee ligament as a high school senior.
If Smith does start, he'll be the rare case of a draft pick to do so in Dallas. Nowitzki did it for about half the season in 1998-99, after the Mavericks used the sixth pick to get Robert Traylor for Milwaukee and had the Bucks take the 7-foot German with the ninth choice. That's the last time Dallas entered the draft with a top-10 pick.
The addition of Smith means four of the five starting spots are filled, because if he doesn't start, he'll likely be behind Yogi Ferrell.
But the Mavericks believe Ferrell is a better fit as a backup, with veterans J.J. Barea and Devin Harris also available to play point. The other three starters under contract are Nowitzki, shooting guard Wesley Matthews and forward Harrison Barnes.
"This is a historic night for us," Carlisle said. "Playmaking is an especially important part of the NBA game now, that having guys like Dennis Smith Jr. that can create simply on their own, and on pick and rolls, pick and rolls with Dirk, is a great blessing for us to have."
Smith enrolled early at NC State in January 2016 after the high school injury so he could play as a freshman. He's the only Atlantic Coast Conference player to record two triple-doubles in the same season, and he averaged 18.1 points per game. Smith led ACC freshmen in scoring, assists and steals.
FEATURED PHOTO: Dennis Smith Jr. answers questions after being drafted by the Mavericks on Thursday in New York. (Frank Franklin/AP)