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In Dennis We Trust?

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Dennis Smith, Jr. is going to have a lot of pressure next season, and history is not on his side.

A couple of highly rated point guards that weren't great out of the gate.
A couple of highly rated point guards that weren't great out of the gate.
Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday morning I ran a piece lamenting what ails our beloved NC State Wolfpack. Said beloved Wolfpack then went out and showed no signs of ailments whatsoever in their best 40-minute effort of the season. It all culminated in an 85-69 rout of 13th ranked Miami. There's only one thing to do now, and that's to keep spewing doom until the team loses, which of course will be never so long as I never run out of doom to spew. You can thank me later.

Today's doom comes in the form of pinning a program's hopes on an incoming freshperson. It is assumed that Anthony Barber will take his considerable talents to the ranks of professional basketball after the season, leaving the program in the hands of Dennis Smith, Jr. DSJ is Mark Gottfried's top recruit in his Wolfpack tenure, the highest rated point guard in the class of 2016, and the sixth-best prospect overall according to 247 Sports' composite rankings. Despite that impressive pedigree and the advantage Smith has from enrolling early this spring, is it wise for Wolfpack Nation to expect him to immediately fill Cat's shoes and return the program to NCAA tournament material?

Let us use history as a guide. The following tables show the top five point guards from the last three classes, their overall rank (in parentheses), and their first-year college performances. All rankings are composites from the top recruiting sites, as compiled by 247.

2013 Top 5 PGs

Player (Rank)

PER

TS%

eFG%

AST%

TOV%

USG%

WS/40

Andrew Harrison (5th)

12.5

50.6

41.7

23.8

20.3

21.2

.101

Kasey Hill (8th)

13.0

48.7

42.5

27.2

21.7

17.7

.129

Tyler Ennis (23rd)*

21.3

51.1

45.3

32.3

11.9

21.9

.180

Cat Barber (25th)

13.7

47.5

42.4

27.5

16.1

23.1

.069

Terry Rozier (29th)

17.8

50.4

47.8

16.6

7.9

19.3

.198

*1ndone

Rozier had the best freshman year of the bunch according to WS/40, but he was more of an off guard in college and over half of his win shares came from harder to quantify defensive stats. The shooting and assist numbers are pretty meh, but nice job taking care of the ball...again that's easier when you're not running the show.

Ennis was the best shooter of the bad shooting group and boasted a nice assist rate, so it's no surprise he became the only one-and-done of the bunch, but those shooting numbers are not overly impressive. Such luminaries as Lennard Freeman and Caleb Martin (though certainly they get their shots closer to the basket) have a higher TS% and eFG% this year than Ennis had as a freshman. I cannot find aggregate TS% and eFG% for the NCAA to use as a measuring stick, but such numbers are available for the NBA. Last season, league-wide TS% was 53.4% and eFG% was 49.4%. Not one of those guys is even average by those standards.

Harrison is obviously the closest comp to Smith in this list in terms of ranking, and he did not live up to the hype in year one. Anthony Barber gets slammed by a negative defensive rating (which, again, I don't know if I buy defensive metrics), but, as you may have seen, he came along quite nicely.

2014 Top 5 PGs

Player (Rank)

PER

TS%

eFG%

AST%

TOV%

USG%

WS/40

Emmanuel Mudiay (2nd)

DNP+

Tyus Jones (7th)*

20.4

57.5

48.9

27.5

15.9

18.7

.196

Tyler Ulis (19th)

15.6

55.1

50.6

27.2

16.7

13.5

.190

Joel Berry (30th)

12.3

53.6

49.0

18.8

15.3

16.7

.115

Melo Trimble (31st)

22.8

62.8

53.4

21.2

16.0

25.0

.206

+opted to play overseas rather than go to college

*1ndone

Who knows what Mudiay would have done had he gone to college, but he's been absolutely brutal since being picked 7th overall by the Denver Nuggets, shooting 35% from two and 27% from three while ending possessions with a turnover more than once per five trips.

Jones is the closest comp in terms of ranking from this table and I think we would all be quite pleased if Smith posts similar numbers as a freshman. Hopefully, with the addition of Dorn, a healthy Henderson, and the return of Abdul-Malik Abu, he will have the luxury, like Jones, of not having to carry a huge usage burden. Or, better, yet, Smith could be like the underrated-in-hindsight Trimble, who was absolutely spectacular for the Artists Formerly Known as ACC in his freshperson campaign despite a heavy workload.

Regardless, this table inspires a bit more confidence than the class of 2013 group. These fellas could shoot, and three of the four for whom we have data posted a WS/40 on par with present-day Cat Daddy.

2015 Top 5 PGs

Player (Rank)

PER

TS%

eFG%

AST%

TOV%

USG%

WS/40

Malik Newman (8th)

15.4

56.1

53.6

13.5

13.1

23.4

.098

Isaiah Briscoe (12th)

13.1

45.8

46.3

17.7

15.8

20.1

.099

Derryck Thornton (14th)

11.4

50.0

46.4

16.9

17.2

19.2

.081

Jalen Brunson (22nd)

15.6

55.1

49.7

21.7

16.2

22.6

.155

Jalen Adams (23rd)

11.4

47.6

44.3

17.0

18.9

18.7

.098

Kitty Now

23.8

54.7

46.3

26.7

10.2

29.4

.191

Ooh. Then there's this group. Newman, though ranked as a PG by 247, is really more of a combo guard, thus the low assist numbers. Dude has shot quite well though under a fairly heavy workload. I'm actually a little perplexed as to why the WS/40 isn't higher.

Brunson's been quite solid, but he has the luxury of playing behind (and sometimes alongside) a senior point guard. His numbers might take a hit if he was spending more than seven minutes or so a game as the lone PG on the floor. If Cat Daddy turns pro as expected, Smith will likely be logging 30+ minutes a game at the point.

The rest of the '15 class has simply not been especially good at basketball; all have a WS/40 a shade under .100, which is league average. Other than Newman and Brunson, none of them can shoot, and there's not one especially impressive assist rate in the whole lot. Again, I'm not sure what a good AST% is for a college point guard, but in The League the top PGs put up assist rates of 35% or better (Chris Nutpuncher Paul has topped 50% in a couple of seasons), often with TOV% in the low teens (unless you're Rajon Rondo (23.6% TOV% last year)). Ennis was the only young fellow in any of these tables to eclipse 30%.

Bottom line, only four of these 14 guys had a WS/40 as a freshman on par with present-day Cat Daddy, and only one of four top 10 guys, Jones, could hold a candle to Cat, and Jones's team was loaded. While next year Smith should have more help than Cat has this year...well HE BETTER have more help than Cat, as it seems improbable that he will be able to produce on the same level as Cat from day one, and this team has struggled despite a POY-worthy performance from its PG. Here's to hoping Dorn and Henderson are legit, and that everyone coming back further develops their game, because pinning your hopes on even the most talented of freshpersons is a recipe for doom.

Perhaps, in a perfect world, he'll just be kinda good as a freshman, stay two years, and go pro after his breakout sophomore year when he posts a WS/40 north of .200 for the NCAA champion Pack. Regardless, since no one expects him to be a four-year player anyway, why not get him a little run this year if his knee is healthy? Might as well get those first-year growing pains out of the way ASAP.