Jabari Smith hungry to win, hungry to help his new team

Auburn Tigers forward Jabari Smith (10) cuts down the net as Auburn Tigers men's basketball celebrates the regular season SEC championship at Neville Arena in Auburn, Ala., on Saturday, March 5, 2022. Auburn Tigers defeated South Carolina Gamecocks 82-71.
Auburn Tigers forward Jabari Smith (10) cuts down the net as Auburn Tigers men's basketball celebrates the regular season SEC championship at Neville Arena in Auburn, Ala., on Saturday, March 5, 2022. Auburn Tigers defeated South Carolina Gamecocks 82-71. /

Everyone was understandably curious as Jabari Smith Jr. made his first workout of this draft season and the debate over the top pick in the draft certainly seemed to start heating up in a more tangible way.

Media — more than for the usual practice or availability — waited outside the AdventHealth Practice Facility inside Amway Center waiting for the doors to open and reveal their first glimpse at the player who has become the betting favorite to be the top pick in the draft.

As the waiting continued more and more of the Magic’s current crop of players made their way through — Franz Wagner, Moe Wagner, Cole Anthony, Jalen Suggs, Jonathan Isaac and Mo Bamba all arrived as the media waited for Jabari Smith’s workout to conclude — preparing for their own daily workouts in the offseason.

But it would be hard-pressed not to think there was at least some curiosity in catching the end of or seeing their potential new teammate.

At this point, everything is a feeling-out process for both sides as they get to know each other a bit more seriously and ultimately make the selection to add to the team on June 23.

So what did the Magic learn about Smith in their first face-to-face meeting with the Auburn forward? A lot of the on-court stuff will stay behind those closed doors as they analyze the last bits of his game.

Jabari Smith Jr. worked out for the Orlando Magic on Thursday as the potential No. 1 pick made clear his desire to help his team and his desire to help his team win.

What became clear though about Smith’s time with the media was his desire to be great but more his desire to do what the team needs. That is where his versatility on both ends of the floor has helped him climb to this position.

It may have been an individual workout for Smith — as with most top draft prospects, he did not work out against anyone, it was him and the coaching staff going through their paces one on one — but he was talking all about what he wants to contribute to the team he will one day join.

The takeaway he hoped the Magic received was that he is a team player ready to do what it takes to win. But more importantly, he willl do what his team needs him to do to get to that goal whether that is as the leading scorer or a floor spacer and defender.

This permeated his whole philosophy on his game and was the impression he left the media at Amway Center.

"“I want it to be that I’m a team player,” Smith said after his workout Thursday. “I’m not worried about stats or accolades or anything like that. My main goal in life is to win an NBA championship. That’s my goal. No matter if I average 30, no matter if I average 10, that’s what I want to do. Whatever a team wants me to do to impact winning, that’s what I want to do.”"

That is certainly a good answer for a young player entering a new situation and a new league. And smith certainly has the talent to make that kind of an impact.

At this point, every Magic fan knows the pros and cons when it comes to Smith. Everyone knows he is a versatile wing player seemingly able to defend all four wing positions with impressive shooting splits and a knack for scoring from the mid-post.

The detraction on him is his ability to create shots for himself off the dribble — and perhaps as Smith put it himself after his workout his need to showcase and improve his passing and decision-making. Smith said he spent the past three months keeping his body right and sharpening his skills as he prepared for the Draft.

Smith last year averaged 16.9 points per game and 7.4 rebounds per game with shooting splits of 42.9/42.0/79.9. At 6-foot-10 with his wingspan and mobility, he checks all the boxes of a modern NBA wing. Certainly the kind of player the Magic like.

Indeed, Smith said part of the discussion he had with the Magic’s management and coaching staff was about how the league was changing and how Smith fits into that changing landscape.

Smith certainly fits that to a tee.

"“It will be hard to choose one player because I like to take something from everybody,” Smith said when asked to compare himself to other players in the league. “I like to watch guys who can do a lot like Giannis on the defensive end, like Jayson Tatum, Kevin Durant, of course. Guys who can do a lot are not limited in their game.”"

While there is certainly the discussion of whether Smith can take his game to the next level and be the star, Smith also makes it clear he is about doing what his team needs to do first.

That was certainly part of what made him successful at Auburn and there were certainly parts of his game he did not show as he tried to fit in with what his team needed.

This certainly is part of the attitude and culture the Magic are trying to build. The team-first mentality and brotherhood mentality that has so many of the Magic’s current players still in Orlando for offseason workouts and even to be present for a pre-draft workout.

That popped off the screen to someone like Smith.

“The games that I did watch of them, I could tell how much fun they were having no matter the record or the struggles they faced this season. You would never guess their record was what it was. Just watching them play and the joy they had. You would think they are playing Game 7 of the Finals every game. Nobody is moping around because it was a tough season. Everybody still had that pop and that energy.”

It certainly left an impression that players went up to greet him and shake his hand, welcoming him to the fold — even if it was just for the day. Smith said he could feel the positive energy in the building and how excited everyone was to get to work and continue improving.

To be sure, like everyone else with the Magic, the vibes might have been good last year but there is still that desire to win. As much as Smith has put in the work and wants to be a team player and make his teammates better, he is also about winning.

And that was the other theme that came up time and time again.

When Smith was asked why he should be the No. 1 pick, this is what he chose. And he certainly has the play to back it up.

"“I just feel like my will to win,” Smith said after his workout Thursday. “I can do so much. I feel like I can come in right away and just make an instant impact to any team with my shooting ability and my ability to play defense and all of it. My ability to play defense, get a rebound and push it. My ability to guard multiple positions. I feel like that separates me from different people.”"

It may simply be saying the right things, but that is something that Smith said separates him from the other top picks in this draft. And figuring out that will to win and exactly how Smith intends to apply that in his development and to his team is part of what the Magic were surely trying to figure out in this pre-draft workout.

That is a player who wants the pressure that comes with being the top pick. And a player who knows that he is more than himself and fits into a team.

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Whether that means the Magic make him their selection and add him permanently to their team is a decision that will come in two weeks.