Height - 6’10
Weight - 220 lbs
Wingspan - 7’1
Over the last five years, Bruce Pearl has turned Auburn into being one of the best basketball programmes in the SEC. It is an impressive achievement given that Auburn has historically been a school focused on gridiron success. The steady growth of Pearl’s programme stagnated in the 2020-21 season.
For the 2021-22 season, Auburn added Jabari Smith Jr to their roster. Smith Jr is the son of a former NBA player and played high school basketball in Georgia. His addition helped to lead Auburn back to the top of the SEC and into the NCAA Tournament.
Smith Jr started the season hot and vaulted himself into the top of the Draft. The 2022 NBA Draft was widely assumed to only have two star level players in Paolo Banchero and Chet Holmgren. Smith Jr’s level of play and continual improvement has got him into the No. 1 pick contention.
Looking at Smith’s strengths, it is not hard to see why he has become so desirable. Jabari is an elite shooter off the catch who has shown a proficiency for draining difficult shots. Throughout the season, Smith Jr consistently drained mid-range pull-ups and turnaround jumpers while being closely guarded by the opposing defense.
Smith Jr’s mechanics are sound and his shot-making is effortless. He can rise up and there is very little that the defense can do to stop his shot. A player with his wingspan and his high release point is very difficult to guard in the half-court.
He shot 42% from outside last season and I still believe that there is room for growth in this aspect of his game. Smith Jr’s footwork and fast release should allow him to become comfortable draining shots coming around screens. Jabari can develop into being an elite space creator.
Smith Jr is already a versatile, relentless player on the defensive end of the floor. Smith Jr is not content to fill up the boxscore on the offensive end of the floor; Jabari works just as hard on defense. He tirelessly makes help rotations and rarely allows the opposing team to get an easy lane to the basket.
Jabari’s activity is not just blind effort, Smith Jr anticipates danger and makes the correct read consistently. He could genuinely be an All-Defensive candidate with his excellent help defense.
At the moment, Jabari’s game is only limited by his athletic ability. Smith Jr can finish above the rim comfortably but he is not the most fluid athlete around. He can struggle to flip his hips quickly and change direction quickly.
It has not been a problem on defense but it does affect Smith’s ceiling on offense. His tight hips means that Jabari struggles to get his dribble low and under control. His handles are loose and Jabari cannot be relied upon to create off the bounce in isolation.
This issue will be ironed out as Smith Jr improves his conditioning and redistributes weight on his body. Smith Jr would benefit from burning fat and adding more strength around his core. Improved core strength should mean a marginal gain in agility and more control when driving to the rim for Jabari Smith Jr.
Smith Jr’s fit with the Thunder would be hand in glove. His shooting creates space for the ball-handler to attack and their playmaking will maximise Jabari’s ability as a shooter. Oklahoma City could do with more efficient contributions from downtown and Smith Jr can provide that in spades.
As prospects go, Jabari might be my favourite player in this Draft class. I really like how his skillset fits with the current Thunder core and think that an All-Star appearance is well within his abilities.