Nolan Smith Capitalizes On Opportunity In Backup Point Guard Role
By sarahhecht Posted in: NolanSmith
Nolan Smith's NBA career has had an interesting start to say the least. A rookie during a compressed lockout season, seeing his team begin the rebuilding process with major trades midway through that season and a coaching and philosophy change are just the highlights of his career thus far. But now, during his first “normal” season, Smith is taking the opportunities he’s presented and running them straight into the role of backup point guard.
Smith began the season as Damian Lillard’s backup after veteran Ronnie Price suffered an ankle injury during training camp, but when Price returned Smith moved down the ladder to wait for another chance.
The seven games in which Smith racked up DNPs may have been idle times for the Duke alum on the main stage, but the practice court was a whole different story. His constant focus and determination to improve were, and continue to be, monitored closely by Head Coach Terry Stotts who liked enough of what he saw from Smith in practice to give him a go with meaningful minutes.
“His attitude and his work ethic have not waned. He’s the first guy in every day,” Stotts said of Smith. “When he wasn’t playing he’d still spend a lot of time watching videos with the coaches and then when his opportunity came he was ready. I’ve told all the guys, because we have so many guys who may or may not contribute, that they have to be ready and he’s done that.”
Halfway through the big road trip was when Smith and Price made the swap at the backup spot. Seeing consistent minutes on the floor since has allowed Smith to begin to find his stride, evident in his best showing of the season on Monday against Toronto.
“I’m feeling more comfortable with the time I’m getting and knowing my job when I get on the court,” Smith said “First things first is be aggressive and make plays, go out there and try and make plays for myself and at the same time when I do that I’m making plays for my teammates. I know when to make a pass and I know when to shoot the ball and when I step on the court I have to remember to do that. I’m not a set-it-up point guard. I’ve always shown that I can be one, but I’m not at my best when I do that, I have to be aggressive.”
Eleven points, three assists and a steal we’re Smith’s contributions to the box score against the Raptors, but more so than any numbers was the confidence he brought to the floor. With the team in a pinch missing two top scorers in Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews, Smith was able to make a difference while maintaining a sense of calm on the floor we’ve yet to see from the young guard.
“I think it comes with time and more games,” Smith said of the change in his nervousness. “Being in this league, I think the longer you’re in here, you know the speed of the game and the anxiety of getting on the NBA court is gone. Obviously when everybody steps out here you’re excited to play, but as a rookie if you’re not getting 20-25 minutes it’s different when you get out there, you’re just so excited, but now it’s becoming normal. It’s becoming normal now so when I get out there in my head I’m just playing basketball, I’ve been doing this my whole life.”
Now, with Smith’s perseverance and dedication to improve coming to fruition on the floor the backup point guard intends to use every moment to continue to develop. His main focus? Being in complete control of his body and mind as he makes decisions and plays in high-pressure game situations.
“Nolan is a young player in the early part of his career and he’s developing,” Stotts said. “That’s part of what we want to do here this year is develop the young players, so getting him quality minutes I think helps with his progress.”