Don’t look now but Jabari Smith gaining momentum to become the top pick in the NBA draft this year.

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This will be the culmination of tremendous growth over the past year.

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How exactly did he get there? What does the future potentially look like?

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These are the issues that the Orlando Magic, the Oklahoma City Thunder, and possibly others are currently dealing with.

high school

Smith has been a well-known prospect throughout his high school career, earning five-star status early on and maintaining it all the way. He deserves all the awards. He was a McDonald’s All-American, reputedly one of the top 10 players in his class, and a major player in the US basketball system after helping them win the 2019 FIBA ​​Americas Under-16 Championship.

However, what he wasn’t was that in conversation he was the most promising student in the class. It was a discussion around Chet Holmgren, Paolo Bankero, Jonathan Cuminga (before he retrained), and even Jayden Hardy. Smith had great footwork with his back to the basket and enjoyed playing in the middle of the rack. He was younger than his class and bloomed late so he was still growing in his body but there were plenty of markers for future success with long strides, soft touch and super versatile flashes.

However, we missed the opportunity to watch him grow over the last 15 months of his high school career as the pandemic robbed us of what should have been his last season with the Atlanta Celtics at the Adidas circuit, as well as virtually every other major tournament. a national event that we usually rely on to compare the best prospects with each other.

College

By the time Smith’s first season started at the Auburn, he was already a different player than the one we saw before the pandemic. He moved beautifully covering the court and showed much more shooting and explosive power both in his jump around the ring and in his first step when he wanted to attack the less mobile big players.

He also turned the shooting potential he showed in high school into a polished shooting ability. This year at the Auburn, he has hit more than two triples in a game, while shooting 42% from behind the arc and just under 80% from the free throw line. His mechanics were clean and compact, with almost no lapses in his shot preparation, and as the year went on, we saw him increasingly do both deep triples and dribble triples (especially when moving to his left ).

However, there were other areas that were less effective. His love for the middle range and willingness to settle for difficult deuces remained. In fact, over 40% of his field goal attempts were two-point jumpers, according to hoop-math.com, and, as a result, about 43.5% of his arc shots. However, there are some silver linings to this one. First is the precise footwork that has been a staple of his game since he was younger, with various twists and jabs that came straight from Jack Sikma’s modern day clinic. Second is the ability to shoot over competitive defenders, an advantage that is now going out of the arc more and more often and will be valuable in the depth of the shot clock at the next level.

The fact that only 15% of his shots landed on the ring is a major red flag (Chet Holmgren and Paolo Bankero were at 48% and 40% respectively), because this indicates not only a desire to negotiate, but also a potential inability to come there as often as they should. As noted earlier, he showed an improved first step when he wanted to be decisive with one or two rebounds, but overplayed too often and was either prone to losing the ball because of this, or settling for a hard shot. When he got to the rim he finished with a good speed that will only get better as he builds his body.

On defense, his mobility and agility are well documented, and for good reason. His ability, at his height, to get low in his stance and move his legs is extremely impressive. He also maximizes his wingspan at 7ft 1in in his stance, becoming handsome and wide. He rebounds better than he is often credited with, with a defensive rebounding percentage of 23.5%, the third-best record in the SEC.

NBA Potential

A nimble and athletic 6’10 forward who is a high-level 3-point shooter, versatile defenseman and a fast improving overall player who is also a full year younger than the other top pick. Sounds like a good reason to be the top pick in the draft, and it is.

Is he a future NBA star? This is a question I keep asking myself. The NBA is a hard-hitting league, especially compared to its stars, and Smith’s ability to do it at his size is unmatched, especially in this draft. I’m not sure you’ll be a star at 6’10 unless you can change the paint game. This is an area that Smith does not yet pursue on a full-time basis. Some of that will come from building his body, but some of that also depends on the mentality. In my opinion, this is a key variable for determining whether he becomes a star in the future or a very good Robin for someone’s Batman.