The frontcourt has revolutionized at the NBA level. With teams prioritizing pace-and-space play, launching shots at the perimeter, and leaning off of set positions – the league has grown fond of two-way forwards at the next level. In assessing the 2022 draft class, Auburn forward Jabari Smith has propelled his way into top consideration in this draft with his blend of shot-making and defensive versatility.
Smith is no stranger to the big stage. His father, Jabari Smith Sr., played seasons in the NBA at the four and five position. His distant cousin, Kwame Brown, heard his name called first in the 2001 NBA Draft, splitting his time across seven different franchises across 12 seasons.
Based on his Freshman campaign with the Tigers, he may follow the footsteps of Brown as the No. 1 pick in the draft.
Jabari Smith slips perfectly into the league’s new-era power forward. At 6-foot-10, 220 pounds, he carries a suitable size for the power forward position. You couple this pair with a 7-foot-1 wingspan, his length draws comparisons with players in Jayson Tatum and Michael Porter Jr., players who started their careers at the small forward position – but have found their safe haven at the four. Smith’s wingspan ousts Tatum and Porter, who hold 6’11” and 7’0” wingspans, respectively. Due to his array of shot-making ability, size, and defensive capabilities, he fits the glove for one of the league’s most sought-after archetypes.
+ Perimeter Shooting / Limitless Range
Jabari Smith is nothing short of a gunslinger from distance. When looking at the current trajectory of the league, teams have placed absurd value in piecing their backcourt with catch-and-shoot threats. Smith not only comes in as this draft cycle’s best frontcourt shooter, but he may be one of the top to come out in the last few seasons.
Based on Smith’s perimeter prowess, it’s hard to picture him at a 6-foot-10 frame. His quick-trigger release fires more like a guard – the difference is he’s about half a foot taller. Playing for the Tigers this season, he established himself as one of college’s best marksmen posting a three-point attempt on 43.6% of his total shots while averaging 5.5 in all. On these attempts, he lit up the scorecard, shooting 42.0% from beyond the arc off a variety of looks.
Smith’s biggest strength with his play off-the-catch. Per Synergy, Smith ranked in the 85th percentile coming off-the-catch. His shot release, which starts above his head, hardly gets altered from opposing players’ closeouts, making him a lethal off-ball option if not properly covered.
Another factor that really nails down Smith’s perimeter ability is his efforts to shoot from limitless distances. He was as cool as a cucumber launching from the NBA three-point line, working his way out comfortably beyond that length as well. For someone operating at the four spot, there are not many players like Smith who are able to light you up virtually anywhere on the floor.
+ Elite Dribble Pull-Up / Mid-Range Game
Jabari Smith does not have the biggest set of tools when it comes to on-ball creation. However, he does dominate in set areas – the biggest of which comes in the mid-range game.
Coming off the catch, Smith may opt to uncork a jumpshot immediately off receiving the pass. But, when he decides to operate on his own, his two-dribble pull-up yielded elite results in collegiate play. Smith’s pull-up, which normally sees him pop two dribbles, plant right, then plant left, causes big-time issues as it poses a high degree of difficulty for opponents to contest. Smith will go into this shot with no signs of warning, and even if perfectly timed by the defender, he’s able to soar up and get his shot most of the time. This is his staple as of right now, as even with contests commonly a part of this equation – he’s able to shrug that off and turn in some mid-range baskets.
This mid-range shot isn’t always the end-all-be-all when Smith decides to put the basketball on the floor. He’s both come off and set screens to free himself up for mid-range attempts. As for created shots in isolation, he does tend to go between the legs before getting up into his shot. He doesn’t have a hallmarked dribble move or stepback to create room, but to this point, he’s been a hard puzzle for defenses.
A baseline fadeaway jump shot has appeared in Smith’s game as he’s comfortable rising up and launching shots over his man. This shot doesn’t give an explosive amount of open space. However, he had tremendous success adding this to his bag this year, and it could easily be a pillar of his game when in dire need of a bucket.
+ Defensive Versatility
When creating a pecking order of what teams are looking for in “multi-positional defenders”, Smith checks a good amount of those boxes.
In the main clump of what you want in a multi-positional defender, possessing solid length is one of the first checks. Jabari Smith has a length of three inches, carrying a 7-foot-1 wingspan to a 6-foot-10 standing ability. To pair along with this, he holds high levels of lateral speed, motor, and activity that point towards him being a two-way threat.
Smith’s biggest defensive attribute is his ability to defend the 2-4 with little-to-no hiccups. He showed prowess at being able to stay in front of defenders, cutting off potential avenues to the basket, and absorbing contact when opponents looked to engage around the basket. This can be displayed as he clocked just 2.1 fouls per game in a 28.8-minute palate with the Tigers.
His defensive capabilities went beyond the ability to change between three positions as he’s pesky when nearby a ball-handler. He has great reflexes when seeing an opportunity to poke the ball loose, jarring the ball loose both coming to help and when taking a guard in the halfcourt.
In terms of stance, Smith garners a lot of praise. Smith keeps a wide stance when guarding at the perimeter, and with significant bends of the knees, he’s able to keep track of his defenders. You rarely see Smith cross his feet when going against faster defenders using turns of his hips to change direction without committing to a chase.
+ Pick-and-Roll Defense
With the prevalence of screens in recent years, it’s been instrumental for teams to minimize defensive liabilities on pick-and-roll coverage. Jabari Smith is a sound player in all coverages in a screen setting.
Smith does not shy away from switching off of screens and DHOs. You can see he’s confident in his abilities to defend just about anybody faced his way. When playing in drop coverage, Smith does an excellent job moving onto guards while also being a viable option to get back onto his man off of hedging.
+ Coast to Coast Play
As a decision-maker, Smith makes a major impact when playing as a downhill threat. Recording 7.4 rebounds per game this season, he did a tremendous job flying in for boards and immediately looking to go the other direction. As an outlet passer, he’s able to find targets early to kickstart transition – but he’s also able to break into fastbreak theatrics, himself.
Smith’s array of handles was seldom used in the halfcourt this season. However, in a fastbreak setting, he has a good moving behind-the-back and crossover that helps to create space from backpedaling defenders – ultimately making him a good finisher in the coast-to-coast.
Stop-and-pop threes were not a big part of Smith’s game when handling past the timeline this season. But, his current skill set would make him solid in this area, in addition to being a good trailer past the arc.
+ Sneaky Hops
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Jabari Smith is not the type of player to generate his own paths to the basket. But, if space is created for him to make an impact around the basket, he’s more than able to do that for prospective teams.
Smith made headlines during the early portion of March Madness this season, throwing down arguably the best dunk of the season over Jacksonville State big Brandon Huffman. He seldom played as a cutter for the Tigers this season, but if he’s paired with a ball-dominant guard, there’s real room for him to make an impact around the basket.
Right now, he lacks elite dexterity when finishing around the basket. But, if a defender closes out hard off a catch, he should make an impact, slashing inside and making some sound waves in that regard.
– On-Ball Creation / Isolation Play
As aforementioned, Jabari Smith carries some advanced moves with his two-dribble pull-up and baseline fadeaways. However, he’ll need to improve as an on-ball creator to be “the guy” teams call for when they need a bucket.
The handle is a tad rocky with Smith as he has a fairly loose dribble which can force him to pick up his dribble to cough up the basketball. His speed with the basketball is not at a superior level. Though, his size should help in creating some angles. The issue is there wasn’t a real go-to move for him to penetrate to the basket.
Smith shot a measly 12 percent of attempts around the basket at Auburn, meaning he was never really forced to improve going to the basket. On shots around the basket Smith created, he had the tendency to launch low-percentage shots on excruciating defenses or get caught mid-air with no clear decision in mind.
Jabari Smith has room to be a three-level monster. He has already proven his weight, making shots off-the-catch. But, if he wants to break free as a top dog on a roster, being a player who can play in isolation is pivotal.
– Playmaking / Shot Selection
As covered in the previous segment, the lack of on-ball creation skills does subject him to a primary off-ball role within an offense. If he’s able to click as a ball-handler and playmaker, this concern should work itself out in a matter of years.
In terms of playmaking, Smith improved significantly during his Freshman campaign, but there were still some bumps in the road. He’s a player who puts a lot of faith into shots of high difficulty, and though those yielded solid results, a good chunk of misses came off of shots he should’ve instead waited on or completely reset the offense.
Smith fleshed out 2.0 assists per game this season, having a high understanding of passing out of the post. When operating at the top-of-the-key, this vision also appeared as when defenders elected to bring help – he did a good job finding the open man. You can chalk a lot of Smith’s negatives in this area as a byproduct of tunnel vision as it looked as if he knew if he was launching a shot before it even touched his hand.
Truthfully, this is not a major point of concern for Smith. His flashes passing out of the post and up top give enough reason to believe he’ll be a better passer at the next level.
– Finishing Dexterity
Overall, Smith made his mark around the rim shooting 33-of-51 (64.7%). One key note, however, is his dexterity around the basket. Generally speaking, Smith is a very good slasher when given the open lane. Upon contests, you tend to see a drop-off in verticality as he instead opts to absorb contact from defenders.
Smith is much more proficient in taking layups right-handed than he is with his left as he is not the greatest left-handed finisher when taking contact around the rim. Smith had no preference as to which wing he played on, shooting 89 jumpers at the left elbow and wing compared to 82 jumpers at the right elbow and wing. To cater more towards his finishing ability, placing him off-the-ball on the right-wing may cater more towards his slashing ability.
Jabari Smith is exactly what teams yearn for at the forward spot. With postseason teams finding major success disregarding positional locks and overall size – Smith is an ideal power forward who can be a perfect co-star with a small forward or members in the backcourt.
His overall shooting ability is hard to come by at his size, and his overall speed and point of release make him a hard player to stop from downtown. Smith is a player who has mastered the catch-and-shoot game as he’s able to bury jumpers from almost anywhere on the court when open. To add to this, his hallmarked two-dribble pull-up is a jumper that should translate into consistent scoring outbursts moving forward.
Smith’s on-ball play does need some touch-ups as he lacks a go-to move to create distance from his opponent in halfcourt situations. Given his ability to make shots off the bounce already, adding some marquee dribble moves gives him the seeds to be a good isolation piece. If his handling ability never comes to fruition, I think he could still find success working out of high-ball screens.
Smith’s overall frame fits the bill for what NBA teams are looking for defensively. His length and overall lateral quickness make him a chess piece able to defend 2-4, and with a high motor and active hands – he wouldn’t be terrible defending the post in stints.
Floor: High-Caliber Starter → 3&D Four
Jabari Smith is one of the safer options when surveying the top part of this draft. If his on-ball game does not fully form, he’s still going to be an elite catch-and-shoot player at his given skill position, especially with the ability to pull up in space. Even at his floor, he’s perfect for a team looking to make a playoff push and contend. Smith forces a defender to stay out at the perimeter at all times, and his peskiness on the glass also makes him valuable under the basket. Defensively, there’s not too much of a risk factor as his palate of size and strengths certify him as a good multi-positional defender at the next level.
Ceiling: NBA All-Star with All-NBA Consideration
I think Smith’s overall ceiling will be a direct result of his landing spot. There’s an elite mold already set and stone with Smith. If his new team doesn’t push his boundaries, he’s still a very good long-term player. However, to reach his true heights – he’s going to need to be in a system that forces him to shore up on improvement areas – in particular, dribbling and finishing off-the-deck in the halfcourt.
If Smith is placed in a system that not just develops him as an on-ball creator but hands him in-game repetitions to learn – he should be on the fast track to becoming an All-Star caliber player. His current profile already makes him a 15-point scorer with two-way versatility, but the assurance of him being able to create his own shots moves him to the 20s and beyond as a scorer.
Smith’s biggest waning factor in him crossing the All-Star bridge is his ability to create his own offense, in particular with enchanted dribble moves or a stepback. If he’s able to lock this in, that’s where his ceiling starts to be realized.
Defensively, he has the profile to be one of the top defenders at his position for a long time. He’s not the greatest shot blocker, specifically on the interior, but his elite perimeter defense makes him a championship-caliber defender – even if he doesn’t earn accolades for it.
Evaluation: Premier Two-Way Threat with NBA All-Star Consideration
There’s no question about it – Jabari Smith will be playing high-level basketball for a very long time. His combination of shooting ability, defensive versatility, and potential on-ball and slashing abilities make him the perfect cog to place on a championship contender. He might not be the go-to guy for a bucket right now, but he should stand the test as your second or third scoring option, no matter the roster. His work off-the-catch is uncanny for his size and his defensive upside should make him a productive co-star for a playoff team.
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