6-10, 210 lbs
Auburn Freshman Forward
Ball is Life
Jabari Smith is good at two things, shooting the basketball and stopping people from shooting the basketball. He is arguably the best player in the draft at doing those two things; as such, Jabari is one of the most straightforward players to evaluate. The question becomes: how much do you value those two things?
Isn’t being an elite shooter and defender enough?
As I stated, Jabari is an elite shooter and perimeter defender. The problems emerge when you ask him to do other things. Passing and dribbling are not skills this 18-year old has. He is an incredible spot-up shooter, but his bread and butter on offense for Auburn was just shooting the ball over his defender. Unfortunately, this makes for a streaky and inconsistant player. Much of Jabari’s game is predicated on his ability to make shots. When he is making those shots he is easily one of the best prospects out there. When he is not making shots Auburn struggled. There was never anything he did differently in either situation; Auburn winning games was wholly dependent on the roll of the ball.
Jabari has a raised floor but a limited ceiling
Jabari does what he does and has very few flashes or moments of doing anything else. Unfortunately, Jabari is not a play-maker because he cannot read the floor quickly enough. This causes him to either make mistakes in passing, or taking shots when they are not falling.
The arguments for picking Jabari center around his shooting. His shooting is allegedly elite enough that in due time driving lanes will consistently become wide open enough for him to get to the rim. There is a hope he’ll be able to improve his finishing with help from an NBA development staff. By improving his finishing like this, Jabari will have a near complete offensive game and be unstoppable.
The issue with this argument is that it is predicated on Jabari becoming a top-five shooter in the association. That seems like a hard thing to bet on. The worry is, if he falls short the other lacking elements of his game will be too glaring to overlook. Covering up Jabari’s deficiencies could turn him into a big liability rather quickly.
Jabari is not a top-three pick
None of this is to say that I dislike Jabari Smith Jr.; he’s fifth on my board. He’s one of the most prolific shooters we’ve ever seen at 6-10 and an elite defender. The floor is absurdly high, and I’m sure he will be a high-level rotation player. The major trade-off for a higher floor is a lowered ceiling. When you are drafted at the top of the draft, you start to really look into how these hairs split.
For the Rockets, Jabari would fill in perfectly at the three or four. Jabari can also take some attention away from Jalen and KPJ. He also will not need a ton of usage to be effective. If he were not a poor weakside rim protector, he would be a perfect fit next to Sengun on both ends. He and Sengun could develop a good 1-2 game together propped up by Sengun’s elite passing. He is a perfect frontcourt mate for KJ Martin. Martin can cover for his lack of size on the weakside while also being able to put pressure on the rim. Martin has shown us that he often rises to the occasion to block opposing big men. He and Jabari could make life painful for opposing offenses.
If Houston were to drop out of the top 3 picks, they would benefit from drafting a player like Jabari. Seeing Jabari leap-frog Chet or Paolo is difficult. Those other two players are a better fit now, and have more room for potential growth down the road. But, if Houston does fall, expect them be ecstatic about Jabari.