The bell tolled at Kaiser Permanente Arena in Santa Clara, California, Thursday night. The Sioux Falls Skyforce of the NBA G League affiliate Miami HeatThey had just seen their five-game winning streak snap, 126-103, at the hands of the Santa Cruz Warriors, the Golden State affiliate. They’ll take revenge the next day – without the help of a single player.
Guard Dru Smith started the game for Sioux Falls, tallying 15 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists in 32 minutes of action. The next morning, Smith received a call from Brooklyn Networks‘ copper. He was signed to a two-way contract with Brooklyn, a venue that opened just a few days earlier.
“They were just excited [and] Smith told me, “The NetsDaily.”
The Nets officially announced the signing just two hours later, and Smith was on a plane headed east shortly thereafter. On the plane, Smith spoke with one of his new coaches – Long Island Nets coach Ronnie Burrell. Considered a two-way player, Smith will bounce between NBA and G-League clubs, seeing action on Long Island that he wouldn’t have in Brooklyn.
By getting his players involved, Burrell told Smith on the board that he would have his playbook soon and would emerge as the starting point guard on Long Island’s offense. Long Island employs only one true point guard on the roster other than Smith, in Burrell’s eyes: Chris Chiozza. “At the end of the day, it’s just basketball,” Smith recalls hearing. “I’ll find out.”
He landed in New York late Friday night and checked into a downtown Brooklyn hotel provided by the Nets. On Saturday, he will play his first game with the organization on Long Island.
Outdone physically, the 25-year-old heads to Long Island to shoot with the G League club on Saturday; There is a match with Grand Rapids Gold, the team affiliated with the Denver Nuggetsthat evening.
Burrell wouldn’t start Smith right away. “He seems like a guy with a high IQ and would be able to pick our stuff up easily,” says the coach, but the bouncer will get his feet wet to start with low expectations. How much will he play? “It’s all he gives me,” Burrell says. “There is no pressure on him, I just want him to feel comfortable today and see what he can do.”
After a first half marred by a missed layup, Smith began to find his combination in the third quarter against Grand Rapids, hitting a triple. He finished with a team-high 13 points and six assists, which his teammates shared throughout the evening.
“It took that first half to cancel that trip,” he joked after the game. “But [I] I was just trying to find my rhythm, and get a feel for playing with all the guys. I think eventually you’ll get back to playing basketball.”
Once the fourth quarter began, Burrell couldn’t keep his newest starter off the field. Smith played in the closing lineup and helped lead Long Island to the gold. “He showed throughout the game that he was catching everything very quickly,” Burrell noted.
A component of Smith that fits in well with the Nets’ G League program early on is the presence of assistant coach Travis Voigt on Burrell’s staff. Formerly an assistant coach at Skyforce, Voigt is someone Smith has been accustomed to being around for the past year. Sure enough, the two went through a pre-game warm-up together, with Voigt traveling around the field with Smith as she prepared to jump from various distances down the half court.
“We have a great relationship…. We were all sad that he was gone last year, but I mean, it’s great to reconnect with him,” Smith explained. “He’s really good at working with point guards. Pick and roll work, different readouts, all that stuff.”
Smith spent time in Sioux Fall, South Dakota—where there isn’t much to do besides some Topgolf—for Skyforce, but he also fondly remembers his time around the Heat in the preseason and most notably training camp in Cancun. The Heat organization had developed a reputation for developing unmanufactured talent like Smith, who was looking to follow in the footsteps of teammates Gabe Vincent and Duncan Robinson.
Another player Smith learned a lot from marking with the Heat was point guard Kyle Lowry, as both were relatively undersized guards. Smith noticed how Lowry lifted his body in such a way as to use the weight of the opponents against them in defense.
The defensive identity is a key component of the game for Smith, who recorded three steals and a block in his Nets debut. He described his playing style: “I’m always going to compete on the defensive side, just trying my best to get stops, to be in the right place, just trying to do the winning thing on that end.” As a Heat two-way early in the season, Smith played in five games for the Heat, starting once and scoring five points versus the Hawks.
In Brooklyn, he will be able to learn from stars like Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons – with whom he shared the court the next day. On Sunday, Smith returned with Brooklyn off the bench for the Nets’ game against the Thunder. Before the game, he finally met his NBA coach, Jack Vaughn.
The Nets lost the game to OKC in unofficial fashion with Smith on the bench, but the newest Net had kicked off his run. Three full days after that night in Santa Clara, he completed his first full two days with the Nets.
Like any two-way player, Smith dreams of eventually earning a full spot on an NBA roster — hopefully in Brooklyn, he says. But for now, he is just focusing on improving day by day to become a better player.
“I think as I keep doing that, all the other things will come.”