Renowned Russian author Leo Tolstoy once wrote that “the two most powerful warriors are patience and time.”
Loyal fans of the Orlando Magic are no strangers to patience and time. Having patience with the Magic has been something of a requirement since the team moved on from perennial All-Star center Dwight Howard back in the summer of 2012.
Yes, that’s right - I took it back that far. Orlando has missed the playoffs in the Eastern Conference eight times over the last decade since Howard was dealt to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Hence, patience and time. Time and time again over the last ten years, the Magic have found themselves in the middle of the NBA Draft lottery. But this time, the patience fans have shown - and the time they’ve been waiting for the team to return to relevancy in the East - has finally paid off.
For the fourth time in franchise history, and the first time since 2004, the Orlando Magic will be selecting first overall in the draft. The Magic, who have already assembled a roster with six former top-ten NBA Draft picks (along with a collection of additional young players), will now be adding the top player from the 2022 class to their core group in Orlando.
“More than anything, (I’m) excited for the fanbase,” Orlando Magic President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman told reporters in May, following the announcement that his team had won the lottery. “When we went through the rebuild last year (dating back to the 2021 NBA Trade Deadline), we took on all that comes with that. All the youth, all the mistakes, all the excitement, all the enthusiasm. Part of that process is going into the lottery and hoping that you come out in a good place. So we’re excited about tonight, and I’m really excited that the fans have something to fire (them) up.”
Weltman acknowledged to reporters after the lottery that controlling the top of the draft will come with sets of circumstances his group has not been accustomed to in previous draft processes, such as more access to players’ medical information, more prospects willing to visit/workout with the team, and potentially even more phone calls from other organizations.
Orlando’s top executives, including veteran general manager John Hammond, have quite the predicament on their hands. Three big men have presumably separated themselves in a tier of their own at this point of the pre-draft process. And while things can certainly change over the next month, it has long been assumed that the top three selections in this year’s NBA Draft will result in some combination of (alphabetically listed) Paolo Banchero, Chet Holmgren, and Jabari Smith Jr.
Here at Orlando Pinstriped Post, we will be putting together detailed scouting reports of all three prospects over the next month which will include measurements, film observations, resumes, ‘talking points’, and potential fit(s) with the Magic. Third in this series is a sharpshooting forward from Auburn (via Tyrone, GA) with legitimate two-way potential, big man Jabari Smith Jr.
If you missed it, we began our series with scouting reports on Paolo Banchero and Chet Holmgren.
|Jabari Smith Jr.|
|16.9 PTS, 7.4 REB, 2.0 AST, 42.0% 3PT% (188 3PTA's)|
Eye in the sky
-High-release on his jumper; smooth release, tons of shot fluidity, holds follow-through
-Has great feet, utilizes jab-steps exceptionally well, helps create space for jump shot
-Seems to always be squared and ready to shoot, never in a hurry to get shot off due to his size and ability to shoot over smaller defenders
-Range extends well beyond the college three-point line, true floor-spacer
-Served as a nice target for trail three’s in transition, really hunted for those opportunities
-Has the ability to shoot coming off movement as well: catch-and-shoot off screen action, pick-and-pop ability as a screener
-Pull-up ability off one or two dribbles is part of his repertoire. Can he develop shooting/scoring go-to moves off more than just one or two dribbles?
-Because of his plus-size for a forward, was easily able to shoot over smaller defenders in mid or high-post/elbow-extended situations (turning over either shoulder)
-Handle is a little loose (and a bit too high for me). If he doesn’t get his shot off cleanly (off the catch), tends to put the ball on the floor and almost overdribble, doesn’t really create separation off the dribble in one-on-one situations (heading towards the basket)
-Has everything you need to be a plus-defender at the next-level: again, good feet which allows him to slide with (and stay in front of) live dribbler(s), recover in pick-and-roll situations, serve as a help defender in the paint
-Good length, good frame; just consumed collegiate players by keeping his arms up (without fouling) and staying in front of opponents
Reminds me of...
Rashard Lewis - ‘Sweet Lew’ is the first (and obvious) player I see in Smith’ game. Lewis, a two-time NBA All-Star, was a career 38.9 percent three-point shooter (4.4 attempts per game over 15 seasons). He scored 17 points per game or higher for seven-straight seasons (from 2002-2009), often scoring in similar ways that we saw from Smith Jr. at Auburn (corner three’s, catch-and-shoot, coming off screens, pick-and-pop). Smith Jr. has the ability to probably be a more impactful defender than Lewis was (during his years in Seattle).
Michael Porter Jr. - Another player who shares a similar frame to Smith Jr.’s (around 6-10, roughly 215-220 pounds). Porter Jr. has shot just under 42 percent from beyond the arc since entering the NBA (in 125 career games), and just under 45 percent of his overall career field goal attempts have been three-point field goal attempts - similar to what we saw from Smith Jr. this past season. Far from a perfect comparison, because Porter Jr. is well ahead of what we’ve seen from Smith Jr. finishing in the painted area, while Smith Jr. has more defensive potential.
Shades of Khris Middleton, shades of Klay Thompson - Middleton wasn’t as heralded of a prospect upon entering the NBA as Smith Jr. is, and he’s a few inches shorter of course. But I’m thinking about how these two players find success on the offensive end here. Both players are comfortable shooting from the perimeter, using 1-2 dribbles to pull-up in the midrange, and using their positional-size to shoot over smaller defenders (either from the perimeter, the elbow, and/or in various post-up situations). The same could be said for Thompson and Smith. As hesitant as I am to compare an 18 year-old to one of the most elite shooters in NBA history, it’s hard to not see some of Thompson in Smith (shot hunters, knocking-down contested long range shots, positional-size to shoot over defenders, one-to-two dribble pull-up jumpers, etc.). Recently, Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman, who coached both in the NBA and against Smith Jr. this past season, described the ‘22 prospect as “a little bit like Klay Thompson, who doesn’t dribble a lot and can be in a dead sprint, catch, plant and stick it. Jabari does that really well, which is a remarkable thing at 6-10.”
Best films of 2021-22
January 11th vs. Alabama: 25 points (8-14 FGA’s, 3-6 3PTA’s), 7 rebounds, 4 blocks
February 16th vs. Vanderbilt: 31 points (10-16 FGA’s, 7-10 3PTA’s), 4 rebounds
March 2nd vs. Mississippi State: 27 points (9-13 FGA’s, 3-5 3PTA’s), 10 rebounds
Video credit: The Scouting Rapport
Video credit: Frankie Vision
Resume and ‘By the numbers’
- Won a gold medal representing the United States at the FIBA U16 Americas Championship in Brazil (2019)
- Named Georgia Mr. Basketball and the Gatorade Player of the Year (GA) in 2021
- McDonald’s All-American Game, Jordan Brand Classic, and Nike Hoops Summit participant (2021)
- SEC Freshmen of the Year (2022), All-SEC First-Team (2022), Second-Team All-American (2022)
- Finished top-five in the SEC in scoring (16.9 points per game), made three-point field goals (79), player efficiency rating (25.0), box plus/minus (11.1), and defensive rebounding percentage (23.5 percent)
- His father, Jabari Smith, played 108 games in the NBA over four seasons with Sacramento, New Jersey, and Philadelphia
1) Perimeter shooting
When it comes to profiling, projecting, and ultimately drafting, NBA evaluators must hypothesize when scouting prospects what their ‘elite skill’ will be at the next-level. Smith Jr. can do a number of things well on the floor, but there’s no question what the most elite skill is that he brings to the table. It’s a skill that all teams in the NBA value in today’s game, perhaps even more than anything else a player could potentially bring to a team.
Smith is a knock-down, dead-eye three-point specialist. You won’t find a better three-point shooter among the prospects projected to be drafted in the first round of this year’s draft than the 6-10 kid from just south of Atlanta, GA. When you consider the combination of Smith’s age (just turned 19) and size, it’s easy to see why NBA scouts, evaluators, and front office personnel alike are enamored with the Auburn-product’s potential at the next-level (and the elite shooting skill that he already possesses).
You want outside-shooting volume? Smith made three or more three-point field goals in a single contest on 14 separate occasions in 2021-22, including in seven of his last nine collegiate games. The young man was not bashful when it came to ‘letting it fly” from the perimeter, attempting at least seven three-point field goals in 10 of his 34 games at Auburn. Forty-four percent of Smith’s total field goals attempts came from beyond the arc this past season.
How about efficiency? Well, Smith wasn’t too shabby in that department either, knocking-down a cool 42 percent of his 5.5 three-point attempts per game (57% true shooting percentage). According to Synergy Sports, Smith scored 1.20 points per possession in catch-and-shoot situations (91st percentile nationally) and 1.07 points per jumper off-the-dribble (96th percentile) in 2021-22. He was particularly lethal shooting jumpers from both the left and right wings, as well as from the left deep corner.
Source: CBB Analytics
Auburn used Smith to space the floor and put pressure on perimeter defenders, as a first option coming off pin-downs and screens, in catch-and-shoot situations off dribble-handoffs, and as the recipient of ‘trail three’s’ when transition opportunities fell through. It didn’t matter if Smith was wide open, heavily guarded, or needed to use a couple dribbles to step into a long two-point attempt, the 6-10 forward was a shot-maker for the Tigers. His length and plus positional-size allowed him to easily fire over smaller defenders while maintaining his smooth shooting motion and clean release of the basketball.
2) First option or elite role-player?
One of the common talking points that I’ve seen quite a bit regarding Smith is whether (or not) he will ever develop into more than just a ‘3-and-D’ role-player that thrives playing off other quality NBA playmakers. That, I don’t know.
Like, is it completely fair to even raise that kind of question about a teenager who’s just scratching the surface when it comes to the type of player he’s ultimately going to become at the next-level? One drawback in Smith’s game - and it’s a legitimate one - is that his handle is not where it needs to be (right now) in order to become an elite offensive player in the NBA. Even at Auburn, you could tell that Smith struggled to create separation against inferior players when he tried to take defenders off the dribble. Sure, he’s more than effective using a couple dribbles from the perimeter to get to his silky-smooth pull-up jumper from the mid-range. If you watch his film, where he sometimes gets into trouble is when he tries to extend his dribble beyond those one or two dribbles. The 6-10 prodigy has no issue spotting-up from distance, coming off screens, or shooting over defenders in the high-post. But will he be able to develop an adequate enough NBA-level handle, which will allow him to create a bit more shake, fluidity, and space for himself to ultimately become a ‘go-to scorer’?
Besides his loose handle (really, his inability to create separation with the live dribble more than anything), Smith also struggled mightily finishing at the rim this past season as a true freshmen. While shooting 42 percent from beyond the arc is rather eye-popping, shooting a lowly 43.5 percent on two-point attempts is...well, not. As you can see from his shot chart above, Smith Jr.’s shooting efficiency (and how special of an offensive weapon he was compared to his peers nationally) took a massive hit when he attempted shots inside of the free throw line extended. At the rim, Smith converted just under 65 percent of his rather limited attempts in 2021-22, which seems pretty pedestrian compared to Chet Holmgren (87.6%) and Paolo Banchero (70.5%).
Ultimately, I think Smith unfairly gets labeled as a prospect with just role-player potential because some of the things he’s best at on the floor - namely shooting the three-ball and playing defense - are also the same skills that many successful ‘3-and-D’ elite role-players in the NBA possesses. Yes, Smith’s handle and overall toughness finishing in the painted area are parts of his game where he must make strides to justify taking him near (or at) the top of this draft. But again, you have to remember, the young man just turned 19. He’s one of the youngest prospects in this class, and it’s probably not the safest bet to assume that he’s never going to improve. Just because his floor fits the profile of a very successful NBA role-player, that doesn’t mean that’s all Smith is ever going to be in this league. Even ‘playing off’ some rather uninspiring guards at Auburn last season, Smith teased how much of an offensive weapon he can be as a floor-spacer.
But can he grow into a role even larger than that?
3) Defensive upside
In today’s modern NBA game, players that are 6-10 or taller and can shoot the basketball the way Smith can are not completely unheard of. What potentially makes the South Atlanta-native so special is that list of plus-shooting big men shrinks considerably when you factor in how many of them are also shut-down defenders. Smith Jr. has that kind of defensive potential. There were times this past season when he just swallowed defenders: he’s got the positional-size, he’s got the adequate frame (with the ability to easily add more weight), he has enough athleticism to stay in front of quicker opponents. He’s a versatile defender that should be able to guard multiple positions at the next-level right away, something front office executives value more than many realize.
Smith Jr. doesn’t possess an all-time elite wingspan like Holmgren does (it is a +4 wingspan, certainly not bad), nor is he the intimidating shot-blocker and/or rim defender that the skinny Gonzaga star was this past season. It’s not the explosive plays that you would be getting from Smith Jr. on the defensive end, it’s the plays that often don’t show up in the nightly box score. In a piece he wrote back in January, J. Kyle Mann of The Ringer had this to say about Smith Jr.’s defensive acumen.
“He’s very much a ‘right place, right time’ type of positional team defender,” Mann wrote. “To me, these are the positives: mental motor, activity, and accuracy of hands. I’d say he’s more of a rim deterrent than a rim protector at this point, but that can go a long way.”
Sounds like the makings of a plus-NBA team defender to me. Smith Jr. gets after it as a switch defender, due to his incredible footwork, defensive mechanics, hustle/effort, and overall instincts. He should be able to defend either forward position early in his career, with the possibility (depending on how much weight, strength he can add to his frame) of filling-in at times as a small-ball center as well.
Making a case for the Magic to draft Jabari Smith Jr. #1 in the 2022 NBA Draft
|Does Smith fit the Weltman/Hammond archetype?||Yes|
|Would Smith provide the Magic with depth in a needed area?||Not really|
Last season, the Magic ranked 28th or lower in the NBA in the following categories:
FG%, 3PT%, PTS, Offensive Rating, and eFG%
Would drafting Smith help the Magic improve in any of those areas?
|Does Smith possess the upside to be considered the 'best player available'?||Perhaps|
I like to finish these reports by attempting to incorporate a Magic-specific approach to how certain prospects may be viewed by Orlando’s front office.
As we all know, decision-makers Weltman and Hammond have a ‘type’ of player that they value, the archetype of a player they have targeted (and drafted) numerous times already during their time in Orlando. Both Weltman and Hammond value character, long-term projectability, positional-size and versatility, and of course - length. For the most part, the greater a prospect’s wingspan to height differential tends to be, the better. Besides all being viewed as high-character guys, you can see a little of what Orlando’s front office values in their recent draft picks, such as Isaac (positional-size, versatility, length), Mo Bamba (record length, projectability), Chuma Okeke (versatility, length), Jalen Suggs (projectability, positional-size), and Franz Wagner (positional-size, versatility).
Since the first time I saw him play last year, Smith has stood out to me as the exact type of player that Orlando’s current front office regime has targeted in the past. The Georgia high school product has plus positional-size to go along with a 220 pound frame that appears to easily be able to add additional bulk. With a +3 to +4 wingspan to height ratio, Smith will be able to cover either forward position at the NBA-level, with the possibility to also serve as a small-ball center down the road. The Auburn one-and-done star could potentially pair with second-year prodigy Wagner to form one of the more versatile young forward duos in the league.
Like I mentioned above, I think Smith has been unfairly labeled at times as a “safe pick”, because he excels on the floor in areas (shooting and defense) where many ‘3-and-D’ role-players also thrive and/or add value. And that’s fine, I just think it’s short-changing a teenager to assume that he won’t ever develop other parts of his game because he’s already shown (or not shown) certain things on the floor over a relatively small one-year sample size at the collegiate-level.
Adding depth to their frontcourt doesn’t seem to be a pressing ‘need’ for the Magic on the surface. Orlando has committed long-term (4/$50M contract agreed to last October) to fourth-year center Wendell Carter Jr., so you know for certain that he is a part of the organization’s future plans in their front-court. After Carter Jr., things get a bit murkier. Of course, Orlando has Isaac under contract for three more seasons (2022-2025), but it remains a bit unclear what exactly the Magic can expect to get from their fifth-year forward after he’s missed the last two seasons recovering from a serious left knee injury he suffered in the bubble (‘20). They also have 2019 first round pick Okeke in the mix (16th overall), but his presence on the roster shouldn’t/wouldn’t stop the Magic from drafting Holmgren. And there’s certainly no guarantee that Bamba, who’s coming off a career season that saw him serve as the primary starter at the center position for the first time, will be back with the Magic next season either. Orlando’s former sixth overall selection from the 2018 NBA Draft was not granted an extension by the Magic prior to the start of this past season and is set to become a restricted free agent. So there does seem to be room - if Smith were to be the pick - for the Tyrone, GA native to thrive in Orlando’s system, both in the short and long-term.
The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie currently ranks Smith atop his “2022 NBA Daft Top 100 Big Board, 4.0”. ESPN lists Smith second on their “best available prospects” board, while Kevin O’Connor (The Ringer) has the versatile big man second on his big board as well.
The last thing the Magic should be thinking about with their first top overall selection in the last 18 years is to pick a player to fill a need. Yes, the Magic have been one of the more inept distance shooting teams in the league for some time now. Attempting to cover up that deficiency by drafting Smith would make sense in theory, but that should only be part of the story. In my opinion, you don’t draft a player first overall to fill a need. But, if the player that you deem to be better than the rest - the top overall talent in the class - also happens to excel in an area that qualifies as a ‘team need’, well so be it (even better, right?).
In Smith Jr., you have size, projectability, and plus-shooting. A prospect who will stretch defenses and create spacing on offense, while also playing with an abundant amount of hustle, athleticism, and intelligence on the defensive end of the floor. Some question whether the 6-10 forward will ever grow into something more than just an elite role-player, namely due to the fact that creating for himself and finishing in the painted area weren’t exactly strengths in his game this past season at Auburn.
I guess Weltman’s opinion on that matter is the only one that’s ultimately going to matter, and we will certainly see by June 23rd how the Orlando Magic feel about the long-term upside of Jabari Smith Jr.
Aaron Goldstone has been writing for Orlando Pinstriped Post since 2017. You can follow him on Twitter at @AaronGoldstone.