TUALATIN, Ore. — “I think it’s going to have to be something like ‘The Waterboy’,” said Nolan Smith, referring to the Adam Sandler football film. “I think I’m going to have picture someone saying that I can’t do it, or that Portland shouldn’t have drafted me, and then put that to the court.”
To speak to Smith, the Trail Blazers’ soon-to-be second-year point guard, is to see pleasantness personified. He’s the kind of player you can imagine retiring on Sesame Street, a gentleman whose voice you’d doubt could ever be loud enough to call a play.
But after a rookie season in which he produced just 3.8 points and 1.4 assists per game while shooting .372 from the field, Smith had a discussion with his former coach Mike Krzyzewski that might put a maximum-width restriction on his smile. The Duke legend’s advice? If you want to get even — get mad.
“Coach K told me to play angry, to play meaner on the court,” Smith said. “He wants to see me attacking more and not being afraid to take shots — just going all out.”
This is where the ‘Waterboy’ reference comes in, as Sandler’s character would imagine opponents as people who wronged him, unleashing an otherwise non-existent sense of fury as a result. And since Smith often looks as though he is fresh off of a Zoloft binge, he joked that he might have to occasionally fabricate his motivation.
In reality, however, the anger may be more in plain sight than he lets on.
Smith confessed that he has spent most of the offseason “mad,” feeling like he did not demonstrate to his team or fans his true capabilities. He said the substandard effort was the byproduct of limited playing time during the first two thirds of the season mixed with a minimal comfort level during the final third.
And if those fuming feelings within Smith faded after a couple months, you’d have to wonder if Blazers general manager Neil gave them a recharge on Monday when he introduced the rookie class to the media, touting sixth overall pick Damian Lillard as the “franchise point guard” before he’d even played an NBA game.
Smith, however, appears unperturbed.
“He has to say that,” Smith said. “When you take a point guard with the sixth pick, that’s the expectation to live up to. I still look at it as a competition.”
He also looks at Lillard as a friend.
When Lillard was asked about competing with Smith for the role of starting point guard, he deflected the question and said that he was more concerned about building a relationship with Nolan. Smith echoed his thoughts, saying that not only does he have to become close with Lillard due their bond as teammates, but that he wants to as well.
And while much of the conversation Thursday centered around the two dueling for future playing time during the Las Vegas Summer League, Smith insists that his upcoming time in Sin City is more about proving his ability to the person to whom it matters most: Nolan Smith.
“I think summer league is more to show yourself what you can do,” Smith said. “For me, I’m on the team. I’ll be here in training camp, so I want show myself what I can do — show myself that I can dominate.”