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Jabari Smith Jr. Has Been A Mixed Bag, And That’s Ok

Dylan Williams profile picture
Sports Editor
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Jabari Smith Jr. Has Been A Mixed Bag, And That's Ok

It’s safe to say that Jabari Smith Jr. is having a rougher transition to the NBA than other guys.

Smith, the 3rd overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, is currently averaging 15.3 points and 7 rebounds per game. That sounds solid enough. However, he is averaging them on 35.7/35.5/100% shooting splits. While the numbers are not ideal early on, there are reasons to be optimistic if you are a Houston Rockets fan.

Jabari Smith Jr.’s Offense

Coming into the league, the biggest sell on Smith was his combination of size and shooting ability. He is officially listed at 6’11, 220 pounds, and he shot 42% on 188 attempts in his one season at Auburn. Combined with his shooting form, there is reason to believe he will be the best shooter in his class.

So far, he is averaging about 14 shot attempts per game, with half of them coming from three-point range. Interestingly, there have been dynamic plays for him as opposed to being all spot-up opportunities. In his best game so far against Utah, Smith was attacking closeouts, he shot a pull-up three in transition, and he was attacking the offensive boards. He shot 60% from the floor and beyond the arc in that game. There have also been pick-and-pops that have yielded mixed results, but something that is encouraging to see. Also, he is shooting 50% on pull-up threes, albeit on low volume, but it is a shot that he is comfortable going to.

However, his percentages have been rough everywhere except from three and at the basket. Jabari Smith is currently shooting 36% on 2-pointers. Smith at times has gone to a mid-range pull-up, a shot that he is shooting 25% on. And while he is shooting 75% at the basket, only 7% of his attempts are at the basket.

On The Defensive End…

Jabari Smith is a bit of a tweener at the moment. While he is 6’11, he only weighs 220 pounds, so he is fairly skinny. As a result, head coach Stephen Silas has played Smith at both power forward and center, including starting at center against Utah.

In the first four games of the season, Smith has a defensive rating of 126.6, ranking 358th in the NBA. Despite his height, he is not a natural rim protector. In college, he was able to stick to the perimeter while Walker Kessler served as the rim protector. The thing to note is that Smith is giving an effort on defense. There are moments where he switches onto a guard, or forces a bad shot, as he did to Lauri Markkanen in the Utah game.

There were also times when he has gotten picked on. For instance, in the season-opener against Atlanta, John Collins went at Smith repeatedly in the post. On a couple of those moments, Collins went to a mid-range shot and Smith was caught flatfooted and could not contest the shot. In the Milwaukee game, Giannis Antetokounmpo was going through Smith on his way to the rim consistently. He also has an issue with fouling early on, as he has been called for five fouls in two of the four games so far.

Jabari Smith’s Future

It may not be pretty right now, but it is important to remember that he is only 19. He has not had much time to warm up before the season due to an injury keeping him out of the preseason. The percentages are not great at the moment, it is encouraging that the Rockets are getting him involved early. You can expect to see him grow as he gels with the rest of Houston’s young core.

Dylan is a contributor to Basketball Insiders. He earned a bachelor's degree in Communication with a minor in Journalism from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. In his free time, Dylan enjoys watching sports and collecting sneakers.

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