It’s part of our NBA Draft Prospect Review Series where we rate the best players in the 2022 NBA Draft by looking at every shot, assist, spin, steal and rebound during their final college season. Each writer was given access to in-game footage and were asked to deliver their takeout to the player in any way they deemed appropriate.
Paolo Banchero may be the No. 1 player on my draft board, BUT I have no problem with anyone who prefers Jabari Smith Jr. as the best player for the Detroit Pistons to pick and build alongside Cade Cunningham . We’ll be getting to filming very soon, but I can’t tell you how many times “oh my God” or “damn” came out of my mouth as I watched this young boy shoot the rock last year. Combine that with the intensity and effort he plays defensively and you’ll quickly understand why everyone is so high on Smith Jr.
I’ve broken down his game into the aforementioned shooting, followed by what else he brings/doesn’t bring on the offensive side and his defense. I will say looking back at this whole movie helped me get a better idea of who JSJ is as a prospect, and hopefully it helps you better understand if he’s the perfect guy to play with Cade Cunningham and company. .
At 6-foot-10 and 220 pounds, Smith shot 42 percent from 3 on 5.5 attempts per game!! I won’t venture to make any shooting comparisons with some all-time greats, BUT I’m extremely comfortable saying that what we saw of him in college this year was ELITE. I had one major misconception about his shooting that revolved around the difficulty level of the shots he took. Obviously, this kid knows how to catch and shoot, but it goes way beyond that!
He may not be able to grab and go create for others (more on that soon) in transition like Paolo Banchero or Jaden Ivey, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a threat. . He provides a major advantage as a 3-point shooter in transition and he’s more than capable of dribbling straight into a 3-point shooter for himself.
Don’t keep comparing him to Banchero, but with them being 1A and 1B on my board, it makes sense, they have completely different mid-post games. This is perhaps the area that impressed me the most with JSJ. No, he’s not going to be a lot of attacking his man and getting easy shots at the rim or for his teammates, BUT he’s got every shot you can think of in the middle of the post. Reverse the pivot on either foot, throw a step up and back up, disappear, Dirk 1 footer, and even give you the KD sweep to draw a foul and reach the FT line.
If I have a question mark or “want to see more” in terms of shooting, it would be with his movement. He’s going to be a huge threat in Pick n Pop situations and I think his 1.2 dribbling ability is going to be great. Where I wonder if it progresses further is that it comes out of rungs and pins. He showed some of it, but not enough for me to be fully sold. IF that’s something he has or will add to his shooting prowess, he has the ability to show off that sweet shot in almost any way possible.
I also want to mention that even though he relies a lot on his jump shot, he was quite effective with it. I’m only pointing this out because most of us, including me, probably have a hard time forgetting that performance against Miami (FL) in their last college game. I just want to make sure we keep this in perspective that this was one of four or five performances in the year that he went bad. Now, does he need to add anything to his attacking game so that he still contributes at this end of the field? YES! And we’ll come back to that later.
If Smith Jr. is that top shooter AND a guy who brings it on the defensive (I’ll show that in the final breakdown), why isn’t he absolutely the No. 1 overall pick by consensus? The answer to that revolves around questions about his ability and willingness to attack the basket. Yes, the shooting is top notch and something I fully embrace, but there will be games when he’s out and teams plotting 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 it’s all jumping. You will struggle to find many goods from him attacking and reaching the edge. The same can be said when capturing the perimeter and attacking the fences. As you can imagine, teams are really going to hug JSJ on the perimeter because of this top shot. This leaves him with all sorts of opportunities to attack the paint to score or create for his teammates. There was “more” than I expected, but not as many as you’d like to see, which let me see why some people are questioning this area of his game. I don’t even think that its sleeve should be as awesome or creative, the sweater is going to create all the advantages it needs. He just has to be willing and able to capitalize on them.
Speaking of creating for others, I was curious to know what he was like as a setter. I think he is very good in the flow of the attack or with predetermined readings. He looked really good playing against some of the zone defenses where he just had to read a defender and make the pass. I don’t want to sound like I’m minimizing this, it’s absolutely important for a player to get those readings and pass in time and on target in attack. What I wanted to see more of was him doing those second, third, and other high-level reads. There are a few instances, just like there are instances of him attacking the rim, but not enough for me to feel completely comfortable just based on the movie I watched.
Finally, I was curious what other areas he might be able to contribute. Can he go into transition and run the floor? What about as a ball cutter or playing in the dunker spot? Will it provide anything else in ball screen situations other than Pick n Pop? I hate asking questions and not giving answers, but there weren’t enough goods I observed to be sure. Biggest thing I hope he’s able to do is roll short and hit that nice jumper OR if the defense comes I *think* he’d be able to make the right read to get a teammate one open gaze.
When you watch JSJ defensively there is one thing that immediately jumps out, his INTENSITY!! The first clip I watched was a fence on the first defensive possession of the season and it was like a “clinical tape” that resulted in a turnover. Whoever drafts this young man is going to have a player who is absolutely proud and gives energy to this end of the field.
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, it can be a mixed bag. I guess Jabari will spend part of his rookie season seeing what he can do and when to hit and when not to. That said, his long arms and those active hands can absolutely be disruptive for ball handlers.
And yes, I’m fully confident that he can guard on the perimeter and will be a switchable defender. I don’t believe defense is “solely” based on effort, intensity, and willpower, but it has a lot of that to go along with the physical tools to succeed. If there’s anything to worry about, it’s that he sometimes gets a little “big” and when he gets back up, he’s going to get beat up.
The area I was hoping to see a bit more paint resistant against the bigger post players. I just haven’t had enough possessions to have an idea of what he could do IF a team wanted to play a small 5 ball on him. Again he’s ready to compete and be physical and 6 foot 10 inches with a 7-foot-1 wingspan, he is long enough but may not have the weight/strength early in his career to make it through many stretches.
I’m also interested to see if we see more shot blocking prowess in the NBA from Jabari as he played alongside Walker Kessler who, according to stats, had literally one of the best shot blocking seasons in college basketball history. I think with his motor, basketball IQ and length he can offer low enough side rim protection as a low man.
Finally, the bouncing numbers might not impress you, but on film it stands out for me because of his commitment to getting the ball. He wasn’t a guy who had a ton of offensive rebounds, which is interesting on its own, but who would go and get challenged and challenge the defensive rebounds which are the ones I’m really looking for.
I fully admit that there have been times throughout this breakdown where I wondered why I wasn’t moving Jabari Smith Jr to No. 1 on my big chart. The shot was even more impressive than expected and the talk about what he brings defensively was true. I have no problem with anyone wanting to tell me I’m “wrong” to have Paolo on him because if JSJ continues to develop this all round attacking game he is absolutely a PROBLEM!!! And, even if he doesn’t, he’s a plug-and-play prospect that makes your team better with his ground spacing and defensive intensity. It wouldn’t be a bad addition to this list of Pistons.