Stone Bridge senior J.D. Smith delighted in watching the Dallas Mavericks reel off 14 consecutive victories to open the NBA regular season. He particularly enjoyed watching point guard Steve Nash dart through defenders, setting up teammates for easy layups or creating space for himself near the three-point line.
He also took note as Nash, though not particularly tall, strong, fast or quick, managed to slow opposing point guards and contribute to an improving a Dallas defense. Second-worst in the league last year, it was holding opponents to 41.5 percent shooting through 14 games, good for fifth in the league.
"He's quick, but he doesn't hurry," Smith said of Nash. "I love Steve Nash. He's got that style. I admire his hustle. He's a good shooter and passer. He gives his all on the court. He is the kind of person I'd like to model myself after."
Coach Mark Alexander said he "could see how [Smith] would identify with a guy like that, someone who, on the surface, maybe doesn't impress you but has the talent and that never-say-die attitude. [Smith] has that too, and he inspires other kids with how hard he works."
The Mavericks provide an apt example for this year's Bulldogs. Stone Bridge averaged 58.8 points per game last year but gave up 1,392 in 21 games (66.3 ppg), most in the Dulles District, in posting a second consecutive 3-18 record.
"Everybody thinks of us as an offensive team, but the emphasis is on defense this year," Smith said. "Now, we're all about defense."
Smith is aiming Stone Bridge toward a defensive turnaround like that of the Mavericks, embracing first-year assistant coach Chris Neidigh's rabid emphasis on defense. The team starts each practice with a "shell drill," which emphasizes defensive rotations and often the competitive juices pumping.
"So far, it's paid off," Smith said. "In two years, we've only been winning three games, but now, everybody has bought into the whole attitude, and hopefully we will win more than three games."
At 5 feet 9 and 130 pounds, Smith is usually not bigger than his opponent, so he must rely on quickness and intelligence.
On offense, Smith uses his smarts to manage the offense and "not take any wasted trips down the floor." On defense, lateral speed is his greatest asset.
Smith had plenty of practice pestering players he guards this season when he played against Ryan Koppel, one of his best friends, and other Broad Run players in pickup games this summer.
"I really try to get in his shorts, to rattle their floor leader," Smith said. "If their point guard makes mistakes, the steals come right to you. You don't have to reach. You can get steals without having to get fouls. I just try to do that with quickness."