Dennis Smith Jr. Tells Us Why He's Done With the NBA Slam Dunk Contest

We spoke to the 20-year-old Mavs rookie Dennis Smith Jr. about his first campaign, Will Finds A Way, with Under Armour, video game culture in the NBA, why he won’t do the dunk contest again, and more.

Dennis Smith Jr Dunk Contest 2018
USA Today Sports

Feb 17, 2018; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Dennis Smith Jr. (1) dunks in the slam dunk contest in the 2018 All Star Saturday Night at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Chris Pizzello/Pool Photo via USA TODAY Sports

Dennis Smith Jr Dunk Contest 2018

Dennis Smith Jr. isn’t going to be the Rookie of the Year, or really get any serious consideration for the award. But he isn’t too worried about losing out to Donovan Mitchell or Ben Simmons.

“My motivation is just to win games,” says Smith. “I think it becomes a real problem letting another man motivate you. I don't think that's the way to better yourself.”


The former NC State standout dominated the Summer League in 2017, causing fans and media members to roast teams (ahem, Knicks) who passed up on drafting the athletic specimen. As the year went along, despite putting up impressive performances and rim-rattling dunks, he quickly became overlooked thanks to his putrid Mavs squad.

DSJ enjoyed a well-rounded statistical rookie season—15.2 ppg, 5.2 apg, 3.8 rpg, 1.0 spg—rivaling those of past ROTY winners. As he looks ahead to next season, we chatted with the 20-year-old about his freshman campaign, video game culture in the NBA, why he won’t participate in the dunk contest again, and more. We also discussed the video he’s starring in for Under Armour’s new Will Finds A Way initiative.

(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)

The playoffs are underway, there's been a lot of great basketball, some awesome finishes. Did you catch any of the games?
I watched some. 

Anything about any of the teams stand out to you?
The scores are relatively low, so it's slowed down. I'm just observing with a different perspective now. 

Is it tough watching and not being able to play around this time?
It's tough. I don't think it's as tough on me as the guys that's been there before. I never had a feeling of being there and then watching and not being able to make it. But it's definitely something I wanna do and definitely something I don't wanna keep missing. 

Can you talk to me about Under Armour's Will Finds A Way campaign a bit?
Will Finds a Way is just a perfect description of mental toughness. Where there's a will, there's a way, work hard regardless of what's going on. That's a lot of it with my story and tearing my ACL in high school. But it's a positivity about being able to run and jump again. 

Would you say that was one of your lowest points?
You could say that. I always say there's a lot of other things that's bigger than you, deeper than that. You can consider that a low point for me, though. 

You just finished your rookie season. What, if anything, surprised you about being in the NBA?
How much you actually fly. You hear about it a lot, but being involved is different. The amount of travel is crazy. 

What are the kinds of things you guys do on the plane to pass the time? Any games?
We play 2K or “Call of Duty.” I watch a lot of film with the coaches as well. 

It seems there's such a video game craze amongst NBA players, with COD, 2K, and Fortnite all being popular. Would you say that you yourself are an avid gamer?
Definitely. I don't always jump out on that with a new game, but I play my games a fair amount. 

Players in the NBA don't even really be that good at 2K. They really don't be like that. The best person in the NBA I've played in 2K is probably Antonius Cleveland. He play with the Hawks now.

Who's the best guy you've played against?
Depends on what game it is. 

How about 2K? Who’s that dude in the NBA everyone is trying to knock off?
Players in the NBA don't even really be that good at 2K. They really don't be like that. The best person in the NBA I've played in 2K is probably Antonius Cleveland. He play with the Hawks now. 

Do you play as yourself or pick some other team?
We usually do all time teams. I’m always the Mavs. 

Very fitting. You played with a legend, Dirk Nowitzki last year. What are some of the things you've learned from him?
The biggest thing is just work ethic. He works super hard, first one in the gym, last to leave. Coming into year 21, he had a career high in 3-point percentage. He puts a lot of work in and it shows. 

You’re a part of such a tremendous rookie class. I feel like a lot of the talk has been centered around Ben Simmons, Donovan Mitchell. Does not being included in those same conversations motivate you?
My motivation is just to win games. I think it becomes a real problem letting another man motivate you. I don't think that's the way to better yourself. My motivation is winning games and becoming the best me that I can be. Everything else can take care of itself.

I was wondering if you had an NBA player equivalent to your relationship with J. Cole, somebody who's recently retired or unexpected source of motivation or mentorship for you?
God Shammgod, Chauncey Billups, Baron Davis, that's just to name a few. 

You had an awesome, albeit short, showing at the Slam Dunk Contest this year. You even got Vince Carter’s co-sign heading in. Would you do Slam Dunk again?
Probably not. 

Been there, done that kinda thing?
Yeah, I don't think it’s for me. 

I enjoyed the experience. It's more so the gimmick than really the dunks. It is what it is. 

Do you think the competition would improve if it was solely about the dunk and not all of the other additional components?
I think it could. It'll really show who got the creativity with their dunks. It'll help to come up with something that people ain't seen before. Even to make another dunk look way better. 

That 360, between-the-legs, changing hands dunk of yours was nasty.
I got a couple more you probably never seen before. 

Oh yeah?
I got some more with me. You might never see them, I'll never try them in a game. 

Can you share those with us or are you keeping them under wraps?
Definitely keeping under wraps.

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