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NBA Draft Review of Jabari Smith Jr.: What I learned from watching every shot, assist, turnover, steal and rebound

The shooting is better than you’ve heard and the defensive potential is definitely there

Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

This is a part of our NBA Draft Prospect Review series where we evaluate the top players of the 2022 NBA Draft by reviewing every shot, assist, turnover, steal and rebound during their most recent collegiate season. Every writer was given access to game footage and asked to deliver their takeaways about the player in whatever manner they saw fit.

Paolo Banchero may be the No. 1 player on my draft board, BUT I have no issues with anyone who prefers Jabari Smith Jr. as the best player for the Detroit Pistons to select and build alongside Cade Cunningham. We will get to the shooting very soon, but I cannot tell you how many times “oh my goodness” or “jeez” came out of my mouth as I was watching this young kid shoot the rock last year. Combine that with the intensity and effort he plays on the defensive end and you quickly see why everyone is so high on Smith Jr.

I broke his game down into the aforementioned shooting, followed by what else he brings/does not bring on the offensive end and his defense. I will say that going back through all of this film did help me get a better picture of who JSJ is as a prospect, and I hope it will help give you more perspective on if he is the perfect guy to play with Cade Cunningham and company.

OFFENSE

SHOOTING

Standing in at 6-foot-10 and 220 pounds, Smith shot 42% from 3 on 5.5 attempts per game!! I will not allow myself to make any sort of shooting comparisons to some all-time greats, BUT I am extremely comfortable saying that what we saw from him in college this year was ELITE. I did have one major misconception about his shooting and that revolved around the level of difficulty of the shots he was taking. Obviously, this kid can catch and shoot, but it goes far beyond that!

He may not be able to grab and go and create for others (more on this soon) in transition like Paolo Banchero or Jaden Ivey, but that does not mean he isn’t a threat. He offers major upside as a trail 3-point shooter in transition and he is more than capable of dribbling right into a pull-up 3-pointer for himself.

Not to continue to compare him and Banchero, but with them being 1A and 1B on my board it makes sense, they have completely different mid-post games. This might be the area that impressed me the most with JSJ. No, it is not going to be a lot of attacking his man and getting easy shots at the rim or for teammates, BUT he has every shot you can think of in the mid-post. Reverse pivot off either foot, jab step and raise up, fade away, Dirk 1 footer, and even will give you the KD swipe through to draw a foul and get to the FT line.

If I have one question mark or “want to see more” in terms of his shooting it would be with his movement. He’s going to be a huge threat in Pick n Pop situations and I think his ability to 1,2 dribble pull up is going to be just fine. Where I wonder if he progresses more into is coming off staggereds and pindowns. He has shown some of that but just not enough for me to be fully sold. IF this is something he has or will add to his shooting prowess he has the ability to showcase that sweet shooting stroke in just about every way possible.

I also do want to mention that while he is very reliant on his jump shot, he was pretty consistently effective with it. I only point this out because most of us, including me, probably have a hard time forgetting that performance against Miami (FL) in his last college game. I just want to make sure we keep that in perspective that it was one of only four or five performances all year long where he shot that poorly. Now, does he need to add something to his offensive game so he is still contributing on that end of the floor? YES! And we will get to that next.

EVERYTHING ELSE

If Smith Jr. is that high level of a shooter AND a guy that brings it on the defensive end (I will show that in the final breakdown) why is he not absolutely the consensus No. 1 overall pick? The answer to that revolves around questions about his ability, and willingness, to attack the basket. Yes, the shooting is high level and something I fully buy into, but there are going to be games when he is off and teams that scheme to take that away from him and force him to do something else.

I mentioned earlier that his mid-post game is completely different from Paolo Banchero in that he has a wide range of shots, but they are all jump shots. You will be hard-pressed to find many possessions of him attacking and getting to the rim. The same can be said when catching on the perimeter and attacking closeouts. As you can imagine, teams are going to really hug up to JSJ on the perimeter because of that high-level shooting. That leaves all kinds of opportunities for him to attack the paint to score or create for teammates. There were “more” of these than I expected but not near as many as you would like to see which has left me to understand why some have questions about this area of his game. I don’t even think his handle has to be that great or creative, the jumper is going to create all the advantages he needs. He just has to be willing and able to capitalize on them.

Speaking of creating for others, I was curious how he looked as a passer. I think he is very good within the flow of the offense or with predetermined reads. He looked really good playing against some of the zone defenses where he simply had to read one defender and make the pass. I do not mean to sound like I am discounting this, it is absolutely important for a player to make those reads and make passes on time and target within the offense. What I wanted to see more of was him making those second, third and more high-level reads. There are some examples, just like there are some examples of him attacking the rim, but not quite enough for me to feel fully comfortable just based on the film I watched.

Lastly, I was curious what other areas he might be able to contribute. Can he get in transition and run the floor? What about as an off-ball cutter or playing in the dunker spot? Will he provide anything in ball-screen situations other than Pick n Pop? I hate to throw out questions and not give answers but there were not enough possessions I observed to know for sure. The biggest thing I would hope for him to be able to do is short roll and hit that sweet jumper OR if the defense comes I *think* he would be able to make the right read to get a teammate an open look.

DEFENSE

When watching JSJ on the defensive end there is one thing that immediately pops off the screen, his INTENSITY!! The first clip I watched was a closeout on the first defensive possession of the season and it was like “clinic tape” that resulted in a turnover. Whoever drafts this young man is going to get a player who absolutely takes pride and gives energy on that end of the floor.

With that intensity comes an aggressive mentality with his hands. As Pistons fans have learned over the past two seasons with Killian Hayes and Cade Cunningham that can be a mixed bag. My guess is Jabari will spend part of his rookie season seeing what he can get away with and when to reach and when to not. With that said, his long arms and those active hands absolutely can be disruptive for ball handlers.

And yes, I am fully bought in that he can guard on the perimeter and will be a switchable defender. I am not a believer that defense is “only” based on effort, intensity, and want to but he has plenty of that to go along with the physical tools to be successful. If there is one area of concern it is he gets a little “tall” at times and when he gets straight up he is going to get beat.

The area I was hoping to see a little more of is holding up in the paint against bigger post players. I just did not get enough possessions to have an idea what he could do IF a team wanted to play him some small-ball 5. Again, he is willing to compete and be physical and at 6-foot-10 with a reported 7-foot-1 wingspan, he is long enough but may not have the weight/strength early in his career to do this for many stretches.

I am also interested to see if we see more shot-blocking prowess in the NBA from Jabari as he was playing alongside Walker Kessler who, by the metrics, literally had one of the best shot-blocking seasons in college basketball history. I think with his motor, basketball IQ, and length, he can offer enough weak side rim protection as the low man.

Lastly, the rebounding numbers may not wow you, but on film, it stands out to me because of his commitment to going and getting the ball. He was not a guy that got a ton of offensive boards, which is interesting in its own right but would go get challenged and contested defensive rebounds which are the ones I really look for.

I will fully admit that there were times throughout this breakdown I was questioning myself on why I was not moving Jabari Smith Jr to No. 1 on my big board. The shooting was even more impressive than I anticipated and the talk about what he brings on the defensive end was true. I have no issues with anyone who wants to tell me I am “wrong” for having Paolo over him because if JSJ continues to develop that all-around offensive game he is absolutely a PROBLEM!!! And, even if he doesn’t, he is a plug-and-play prospect that makes your team better with his floor spacing and defensive intensity. Would not be a bad addition to this Pistons roster.

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