The NBA Draft is quickly approaching. And with the Orlando Magic having the number one pick in the draft, they hold the power.
This is not a draft with a consensus number one prospect. But as draft day gets closer, it seems the race for number one is getting cut to two between Jabari Smith Jr. and Chet Holmgren.
While Holmgren is an intriguing prospect, Smith fills many of Orlando’s needs while still arguably being the best player in the draft.
There is a reason Smith is the betting favorite to be the top pick. And after his workout in Orlando on Thursday, the Magic got their chance to get up close and personal with him.
What they likely saw was a player who is confident in his skills, who is selfless for his teammates and who is determined to win. Whether those traits connected with the front office and get him over the top is the big question for the Magic as they prepare to make the pick.
Jabari Smith is the betting favorite to be the top pick in the NBA Draft. At his baseline, he will be a strong 3-and-D wing. But he potentially and likely will be a whole lot more.
Smith’s game though does a lot of the talking.
Smith averaged 16.9 points per game, 7.4 rebounds per game and 2.1 “stocks” per game. He shot 42.9-percent from the floor, 42.0-percent from three and 79.9-percent from the foul line. He took 5.5 3-point attempts per game, accounting for just less than half of his total shots.
Entering the draft Smith is regarded as a 3-and-D player. And while those are aspects of his game and likely his most immediate contribution when he enters the league, Smith can do so much more.
Defensively, Smith with his 7-foot-2 wingspan at his 6-foot-10 height has the potential to be an elite defender on the perimeter and in the paint. This allows Smith to guard any position and the ability to play in any defensive scheme with the ability to switch.
Smith was a defensive terror in college. He posted 2.3 defensive win shares and had a +3.8 defensive box plus-minus, according to Sports-Reference.
There are certain skills that can not be taught defensively in the NBA.
Size and desire to defend are aspects of defense that are not taught, and Smith has both of those skills. Once he is able to improve his technique with NBA coaching, he will be one of the better defenders in the league.
This would fit perfectly with the defensive potential the Magic currently have on their roster with Jonathan Isaac, Chuma Okeke, Franz Wagner, Jalen Suggs and Wendell Carter.
Offensively Smith is already regarded as a floor spacer and shooter.
At Auburn, Smith shot 42.0-percent overall from the three-point line. This is a need for the Magic, which struggled to space the floor offensively. These two aspects of his game would improve the Magic immediately on both ends of the floor.
Overall in the league, the ability to spread the floor and still have versatility is important.
This is a key characteristic of both teams currently in the NBA Finals. The Boston Celtics currently have a 2-1 lead over the Golden State Warriors behind Jalen Brown and Jason Tatum. However, Marcus Smart and Al Horford have size for their positions and have the ability to spread the floor.
The Celtics’ defense is based on their ability to switch essentially 1 through 5, eating up any screening actions and forcing teams to play one on one to create space.
With that being said, there have been comments made on Smith’s “weakness” that revolve around his inability to create his shot.
While Smith may not have the greatest handle coming out of college, he has proven he is able to get the shots he wants and can knock them down.
Smith has shown the ability to score in the mid-post using his length to score with the use of the fadeaway or simply shooting over defenders. Smith has also used a jab and quick steps to shoot from the mid-range and from beyond the arc.
Smith’s relatively poor field goal percentage in college was a product of his reliance on his outside shot and his inability to get to the basket consistently. Smith worked well in the mid-post to punish smaller defenders but often settled for turnaround jumpers or mid-range shots.
Some of that may be because the paint-bound Walker Kessler was occupying space in the paint. But Smith said following his workout Thursday that he feels his shot selection is something he had to improve moving from college to the NBA.
He also said he needs to improve his passing and playmaking. He averaged only 2.0 assists per game. Despite his heavy usage, Auburn did not rely on him to create for others.
His ability to be this creator and primary scorer is certainly a question for Smith entering the draft.
But Smith should not be knocked for being able to get to his spots with limited dribbles especially when he is efficient. A player should be praised if he is able to get to his spot with ease and then is able to make shots regardless of the defense.
There have been skill sets seen from being able to score in the mid-range in various ways to being able to make step-back threes. There is no reason to use one of Smith’s strengths against him because he doesn’t take multiple dribbles to get to his spot.
This idea that he cannot get his shot is overstated.
Smith still needs to work on his game to be the best player on a championship team eventually. His handle and ability to finish at the rim will improve.
Surrounded by an NBA-level team development program and coaching staff, Smith has a good chance of reaching that level behind his impressive defense and 3-point shooting at his young age.
The Magic will have a tough decision to make come draft time, and there is not a clear number one option. But Smith is the answer for the Magic in both the short term and the long term.
Smith will provide the 3-point shooting the Magic need and plays the high-level defensive game the Magic are building the culture around, all while having the high ceiling the team is hoping for.