Over a week ago, the number one ranked Auburn Tigers strolled into Fayetteville to take on the Arkansas Razorbacks. Electricity radiated throughout Bud Walton Arena. Voices drained after two-plus hours of shouting. The hardwood looked like a running of the bulls after thousands raced to it as if it were a dancefloor to celebrate. I’ve been to many basketball games over my lifetime, but there was not an atmosphere more exciting to witness than that one. It was incredibly cool to witness.
However, there was a basketball game to watch. The atmosphere is great and all, but it is another thing when the actual game lives up the hype. No number one ranked team had ever made the trek to Bud Walton Arena, so it’s easy to see how Auburn-Arkansas garnered the pub it got. But the game delivered with a lot to dissect.
The headliner of that night came in the form of Auburn’s Jabari Smith Jr. The Fayetteville, Georgia native is in contention with the likes of Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren, Duke’s Paolo Banchero, and Purdue’s Jaden Ivey. Smith put his tantalizing abilities to the test on the big stage. He ended the night with 20 points on 6-16 shooting from the field (including 3-8 from 3 and 5-5 from the free-throw line) and nine rebounds. Smith’s sublime shooting was as advertised.
Jabari Smith shooting a free throw. Great look at a really nice stroke pic.twitter.com/Pw8lJ6C24Q
— Shervon Fakhimi (@ShervonFakhimi) February 9, 2022
Jabari Smith’s shooting is the hallmark of his game and what most appeals to NBA teams. Five of Smith’s 11.7 shots per game come beyond the arc, where he’s shooting just under 40-percent (39.7-percent). Advanced numbers paint Smith’s shooting in a great light as well. As of January 25th, he was generating 1.1 points per possession on all of his jump shots, which ranks in the 82nd-percentile of all college players. This is a good time to remind you all that Smith is a 6-10 220-pound freshman shooting amongst the best in the entire country. That’s nuts! But that isn’t all. As of January 25th, he was also generating points from catch-and-shoot situations at a 1.2 point per possession clip, and according to Brian Hamilton of ‘The Athletic,’ Smith generated 1.347 points per possession out of spot-up opportunities and 1.083 out of post-ups (those numbers courtesy of Synergy Sports). Suffice to say: yes, Jabari Smith is an outstanding shooter. Smith’s shooting nearly gave Auburn a chance to steal the game at the end. I remember saying to myself that Arkansas defenders needed to pick him up to prevent him from stepping into a pull-up three to cut Arkansas’ lead in half with 30 seconds to go in overtime. He ended up drilling that shot anyway and then hitting a step-back just as preposterous seconds after.
Back to back self created 3's from Jabari Smith in the final minute kept Auburn in the game
That's the shot making at 6'10 that makes him such an intruiging prospect pic.twitter.com/EgLx975i4Q
— Draft Dummies (@DraftDummies) February 9, 2022
Yeah, those are NBA-level shots. Jabari Smith’s shotmaking is going to make him arguably the most malleable player in this draft. He doesn’t need the ball to make an impact offensively; his shooting and his gravity are already more than enough. He can defend multiple (all?) positions, which he did against Arkansas; there was one possession against Arkansas’ Stanley Umude where Umude tried to drive to his left but Smith stayed in front of Umude and ended up forcing a turnover. Smith’s 2.7-percent steal-percentage and 4.2-percent block percentage. Steals and blocks are not the end-all-be-all when it comes to measuring a good defender, but a player having percentages above 2.5-percent is above average and typically tends to indicate that player knows what they’re doing on that end of the floor. NBA teams are dying for 6-10 wings who can defend across the floor and hit shots all over the court the way Jabari Smith can. The baseline of a very good, long-time starting wing is already there.
That isn’t to say Jabari Smith doesn’t have areas to improve upon. Smith can create for himself offensively but isn’t asked to do so often. Part of it is because Auburn has a plethora of guards who run the show, but they just didn’t ask Smith to create outside of post-ups or face-ups on the elbows. Granted, Smith is good at scoring from there simply by rising over the top of his defender, but he’s going to need more of a handle to get access to easier looks. These shots are great when they go in, and Smith is very good at hitting these, but they aren’t going to go in every night.
— Sudeep Tumma (@asktumma) February 14, 2022
Bruce Pearl and his staff do a great job at getting Smith the ball in these spots with either a mismatch to his disposal or going downhill with a head of steam. If Smith gets paired with a dynamic guard, there’s no reason a team couldn’t just spam these types of shots and play to Smith’s strengths much more often than not. But I didn’t see Smith stress the Arkansas defense as a primary ballhandler or a driver attacking the rim. Whenever he tried, he did not get all that far (Stanley Umude defended Smith the most among the Razorbacks and did as good a job as anybody could ask). The numbers back that up too. From the time of ESPN’s Jonathan Givony and Mike Schmitz’s article about Smith that was published nearly a month ago, Smith shot 38-percent on two-point attempts that are not dunks and layups (courtesy of Torvik). That’s not very good. Smith also isn’t the most stellar of rebounders and has more turnovers (45) than assists on the season (43). Now, I believe this will improve with time in these aspects of the game as Smith gets stronger and attuned to NBA coaching and player development, but it will bear monitoring as the college season progresses and Smith’s NBA career begins.
Luckily for Jabari Smith, most of these skills are ones that can improve over time. The playmaking could be the most prescient regarding whether Smith hits his ceiling, but even if he never becomes a great playmaker, there is still a lot to work with here. Because of this, I don’t see a scenario where Smith flames out. He’s already too good a shooter and defender to not find a niche in today’s NBA. Smith is going to be a very good starting forward for years to come at the very least. I can see multiple All-Star games in his future as well. Safe to say we’re going to be hearing from Jabari Smith Jr. for a very long time.