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Know the Prospect: Jabari Smith, Jr.

This Tiger is the tops.

Jacksonville State v Auburn Photo by Lance King/Getty Images

We mortals cannot comprehend the experience of having 100,000 words written about us and profiles that scrutinize our abilities (or lack thereof) broadcasted across all forms of international media. That’s a head trip.

The emotional security required to navigate the fickleness of public sentiment is beyond any internal strength I possess. Maybe you’re made of sterner stuff. Jabari Smith, Jr. seems to be, and that’s fortunate because the 18-year-old is already a star and will continue to make headlines for years to come.

What’s the fuss about? In one 34-game season for the Auburn Tigers, the 6’10”, 220 lbs freshman averaged 16.9 points, 7.4 rebounds, two assists, a steal, and a block per contest while shooting 43% from the floor and, wait for it, 42% from downtown. He hit 80% of his free throws, had an eFG of 52%, and his 5.6 Win Shares ranked third in the SEC. His 79 three-pointers were fourth-most in the conference.

Jabari scored 20+ points in 14 of his 34 games, and double-digits in all but five. His season-high was 31 against Vanderbilt. Enjoy his 2021-22 highlights:

The native from Fayetteville, GA is projected to be a top-four pick, and odds are good that this multi-faceted subject of many a highlight reel goes first off the board. Previously, I’ve voiced concern about the Detroit Pistons next season. If they get their hands on Jabari, seriously, look out.

Smith is an elite three-point shooter and killer off the catch-and-shoot. With a seven-foot wingspan, he releases the ball so high that blocking it is practically impossible. Count how many he drains in this clip:

Smith is big and long and plays a little stiff. He can get to the rim, though, and above it for some posterizing jams, but more often settles for jump-shots. Why not? His mid-range game is sweet, too.

Here he lights up Jacksonville State for 20 and 14:

On the other end of the court, his defense is excellent, powered by a relentless motor and solid fundamentals. He is a natural rebounder, and those long arms give him fantastic shot-blocking abilities. And he’s still growing, folks! His frame can and will pack on more muscle, and he’ll need that extra oomph to bully the paint against NBA bodies.

An example of that excellent defense:

You want to call him a unicorn? No arguments here, and others agree. In his brief career, Smith was named the SEC Freshman of the Year and selected for the All-SEC first team and All American second team. He was also one of ten finalists for the Naismith Men’s College Player of the Year, given to the best college hooper.

By all accounts, Smith is a hard-working, eminently coachable young man who understands professional standards because his dad logged four seasons in the league and taught him the ropes. Expect Jabari to develop his ball-handling in the coming years, because it’s one of the few flaws in his game. And he’ll have the ball in his hands often, because this kid can be your team’s point forward.

Even without a tight handle, he’s still capable of this:

Some have drawn comparisons to Jaren Jackson, Jr. and Kevin Garnett. Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer wrote about Smith: “Shades of two-way Rashard Lewis, taller Harrison Barnes, Michael Porter Jr.” In the same article, he adds, “Some of the clutch shots he’s made this year looked awfully like Kevin Durant.” Call Jabari anything you like, Hoss, just call his number: Smith could be safely inserted into an NBA rotation for the 2022-23 season.

Wait, there’s a hand up. “The New York Knicks are predicted to have a lottery slot around 12,” says you. “Why are we even discussing this thoroughbred? He’ll be gone by 12!”

(Hubie Brown voice) OK. First, there’s a mathematical chance the Knicks leapfrog everybody and get a top pick—a nearly impossible chance, but I’m saying there’s a chance. Second, Leon Rose & Co. have swapped draft numbers before. If they decide to move on from Julius Randle, the brass might be motivated to wheel and deal up for Smith. Then, what would you do with him? Play him alongside Obi Toppin? Who comes off the bench?

Luxury problems. Don’t they sound divine?

So, that’s Jabari Smith in a P&T nutshell. (I swear I’ve written and deleted Jabari Parker a dozen times in this piece.) The soon-to-be 19-year-old seems to have the poise to handle the bright lights of MSG, and I’m eager to see him play there next season. I just wish he would be wearing blue and orange when the does.