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On and off the court, Dennis Smith Jr. had a season to forget last year.
But the Knicks point guard spent the extended offseason putting in the work he hopes pays off in a crucial season for his future.
“The more work you put in, the more confident you get,” Smith said Thursday before the Knicks flew to Detroit for Friday’s preseason opener. “So a lot of times it’s becoming second nature to be aggressive and try to make plays for myself and my teammates.”
Smith’s tough 2019-20 season was interrupted by injuries and a death in his family, limiting him to 34 games in which he averaged just 5.5 points, 2.9 assists and 2.3 rebounds while shooting 34.1 percent from the field.
While Smith’s athleticism has long been his calling card, it hasn’t always translated into production. But coach Tom Thibodeau said he likes what he has seen early from the fourth-year pro.
“I think he’s come into camp and he’s been very aggressive,” Thibodeau said. “I think each day, he’s gotten better and better. That’s what we’re asking him to do — to run his team, keep us organized, take advantage of what your strengths are, your ability to get downhill to force people to collapse, and then make the right play. He can score the ball, he’s shooting the ball pretty well right now, but he’s making good plays also.”
Smith, who is entering the final year of his rookie contract, was on the trading block all offseason, The Post’s Marc Berman reported. Now, he will be trying to put together a bounce-back year under the watchful eyes of a new coaching staff and front office — a regime different than the one that acquired him as part of the Kristaps Porzingis trade, aside from general manager Scott Perry.
“I’m gonna come out and do my job and try to win games,” Smith said.
The 23-year-old, who spent a second straight offseason working on his shot, will be among the point guards battling for the starting job, beginning with Friday’s preseason opener.
“He’s still a young player and there’s usually some bumps in the road,” Thibodeau said. “He’s had those and you find a way to rise above them and become successful.”
The Knicks hit the road Thursday as they began to find out what life will be like this season outside of New York under the NBA’s COVID-19 protocols.
“The league has really been on top of it,” Thibodeau said. “On top of the league, I think MSG has gone beyond what the league has required us to do. So for the entire organization, the safety part will come first.”