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Jabari Smith Jr.

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Today marks the day of the 2022 NBA Draft. Dreams are fulfilled and teams are looking to find prospects to help them win championships. Now, no one has any idea how good any one of these guys will end up being. I especially have no clue. But I love to guess and play fake GM. So here is a mock draft of what I personally would do in these spots if I were running these teams. 

1. Orlando Magic – Paolo Banchero F Duke

I wrote more extensively here as to why I think Banchero is the best prospect in this draft. He can grow into Orlando’s premier halfcourt option as soon as he steps into the building.

2. Oklahoma City Thunder – Chet Holmgren C Gonzaga

A perfect fit next to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey with Holmgren’s versatility as a floor spacer, rim roller, shooting off the bounce, and slashing ability. Don’t overthink Chet Holmgren.

3. Houston Rockets – Jabari Smith Jr. F Auburn

Jabari Smith gets called a 6-10 Klay Thompson but don’t get it twisted: that’s a really damn good player. Especially after watching him in person, Jabari Smith is exactly what teams want from their wings in today’s NBA. I just wish he could create off the bounce more.

4. Sacramento Kings – Jaden Ivey G Purdue

Jaden Ivey is simply immensely better than Keegan Murray and anyone else in this group; you could even argue Ivey is a better prospect than Jabari Smith or others in the top three. Sacramento does have a cluster of guards, though. People recommending them trading away De’Aaron Fox and his max salary to make room for Ivey is easier said than done though. But I just can’t pass Ivey up, especially after the names this franchise has passed up over the last decade-plus (Luka Doncic, Steph Curry, Kawhi Leonard, Damian Lillard, to name a few). Take Ivey and worry about the roster clog at guard later.

5. Detroit Pistons – AJ Griffin F Duke

I wrote more extensively about Griffin here. Suffice to say, I think Griffin has more creator skills than he was allowed to show at Duke and is probably the best shooter in this draft. I LOVE the fit with Griffin and Cade Cunningham. 

6. Indiana Pacers – Bennedict Mathurin F Arizona

Perhaps no one played as well in the NCAA Tournament as Bennedict Mathurin. The idea of Mathurin and Tyrese Haliburton harassing guards all over the floor defensively is incredibly enticing. I love the fit here.

7. Portland Trail Blazers – Keegan Murray F Iowa

The Blazers finally added a wing in Jerami Grant on Wednesday. Keegan Murray isn’t a stopper defensively but can cover a lot of ground, can stretch the floor and would make for a great pick and roll tandem with Damian Lillard, Anfernee Simons, or Grant. Portland wants to compete now, so getting one of the most pro-ready prospects in this class makes sense.

8. New Orleans Pelicans (via Los Angeles Lakers) – Shaedon Sharpe G Kentucky

New Orleans is already a playoff team with plenty of draft ammunition in their tool kit. They’re a team that can take a risk in the top 10 so why not take the chance on Sharpe, who some say is the most talented player in this class. I love the idea of Sharpe learning from the steady professional scorer CJ McCollum. The fit around New Orleans’ two building-block stars in Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson makes sense too.

9. San Antonio Spurs – Jalen Duren C Memphis

Jakob Poeltl has one year left on his contract. The Spurs have four picks in the top 40. Duren is the best center in this class with a game comparable to Boston’s Robert Williams III. They can get a guard or wing later. I like the fit here with Duren.

10. Washington Wizards – Jalen Williams F Santa Clara

Williams is a two-way wing close to the size of Paul George with the athleticism of Donovan Mitchell? I talked more about Williams after the NBA combine, but safe to say I’m a fan and that going at ten even might be too low for his potential.

11. New York Knicks – Dyson Daniels F G League Ignite

Dyson Daniels going in the top seven doesn’t make too much sense to me. He seems like someone that is solid at everything but not great at anything. 11 is much more palatable to me. He could play off RJ Barrett very well and seems very much like a Tom Thibodeau guy.

12. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Los Angeles Clippers) – Tari Eason F LSU

At some point, the Thunder have to try to win some games, right? Tari Eason is one of the best defenders in this draft. Him and Holmgren smothering front courts with both having the versatility to defend all over the floor? Sounds good to me.

13. Charlotte Hornets – Ousmane Dieng F France / New Zealand Breakers

Charlotte needs wings and Dieng has the frame and game to excel next to LaMelo Ball as a point forward wing and also bring some much-needed defense to the Hornets. With two first-round picks, Charlotte can afford to take a shot on upside here too.

14. Cleveland Cavaliers – Johnny Davis G Wisconsin

There may not be a better fit for Davis than Cleveland. He is not a playmaker yet, but no worries because Darius Garland is already one of the best playmaking guards in the NBA. Garland isn’t a great defender, but Davis gets after it there with his 6-6 frame and athleticism. He can hit tough shots in the midrange, which would be a requirement with Cleveland’s two-big frontcourt. Cleveland should run to deliver the card with his name on it.

15. Charlotte Hornets (via New Orleans Pelicans) – Mark Williams C Duke

Charlotte needs a center as badly as Spongebob needed water when he first visited Sandy’s dome. Mark Williams instantly bolsters Charlotte’s defense and makes an awesome lob partner for LaMelo Ball.

16. Atlanta Hawks – Jeremy Sochan F Baylor

I’m not as big a Jeremy Sochan fan as others but he’s a stud defensively who just turned 19. Also, the ‘You Don’t Mess With the Sochan’ potential marketing campaigns are just sitting right there. You’re welcome, NBA teams.

17. Houston Rockets (via Brooklyn Nets) – Kennedy Chandler PG Tennessee

This might be too early for Chandler but this is what I would do damnit! I don’t want Banchero to succumb to pedestrian point guard play as he did at Duke for a large portion of their season, though Jalen Green is a good playmaker in his own right. Chandler is arguably the best pure floor general in this class with pesty defense and athleticism to go with it. He can make Green and Alperen Sengun’s life easier too. I love this fit.

18. Chicago Bulls – EJ Liddell F Ohio State

The Bulls so badly need depth on the wing. Poor Alex Caruso was sent to the wolves in the playoffs by having to guard Giannis Antetokounmpo when Patrick Williams got in foul trouble or needed a blow. Though Caruso is one of the best defensive players in the NBA, he shouldn’t have to take on that kind of assignment. Liddell is pro-ready both in terms of game and frame (6-7 240-pounds) and provides exactly what Chicago needs in terms of defense, additional rim protection, and floor spacing.

19. Minnesota Timberwolves – Jake LaRavia F Wake Forest

Jake LaRavia does many of the same things as Liddell. He isn’t as skilled an offensive player as Liddell but is a more bouncy athlete. I wrote more about him here but he’d make for a perfect fit with Karl-Anthony Towns and the Wolves.

20. San Antonio Spurs – Ochai Agbaji F Kansas

This seems low for one of the best players in college basketball last season. Agbaji helped Kansas win a national championship last year and has a game that reminds me a lot of Mikal Bridges. I think he’d fit like a glove in San Antonio.

21. Denver Nuggets – Malaki Branham G Ohio State

This seems low as well. Malaki Branham may not be the best prospect to come from St. Vincent St. Mary High School but he’s one of the best shooters and scorers in the draft. I know Denver drafted Bones Hyland to fill that role last year but getting more players who can fill Jamal Murray’s shoes if he can’t play in a given game. 

22. Memphis Grizzlies (via Utah Jazz) – TyTy Washington G Kentucky

TyTy Washington has numbers and a game eerily similar to Tyrese Maxey. I pounded the table for teams to consider Maxey higher than where he went. Teams that passed on him proved to make a big mistake. Washington is a bit more polished playmaker than Maxey coming out of Kentucky and the Grizzlies could very well lose Tyus Jones this summer. Jones was invaluable filling in for Ja Morant; perhaps Washington can take that spot.

23. Philadelphia 76ers – MarJon Beauchamp F G League Ignite

The Sixers are in dire need of a burst of perimeter defense and athleticism. Tyrese Maxey impersonated Usain Bolt when he ran compared to the rest of the Sixers roster. Beauchamp gives them that much-needed infusion of speed and defense that the Sixers sorely lack.

24. Milwaukee Bucks – Christian Braun G Kansas

I wanted to give the Bucks a bigger wing a la PJ Tucker to unlock more lineups with Giannis Antetokounmpo at the center spot, but I couldn’t find one I loved here. Christian Braun will suffice as a replacement and upgrade to what they lost in Donte DiVincenzo last year.

25. San Antonio Spurs (via Boston Celtics) – Jaden Hardy G G League Ignite

This is the Spurs’ third first-round pick. When I saw footage of Hardy I immediately thought of Jordan Poole and the jump he made for the Golden State Warriors. Hardy has a lot of rough edges to smooth over but also a ton of talent to work with. We very well could look back three years from now and wonder why Hardy wasn’t a lottery pick.

26. Houston Rockets (via Dallas Mavericks) – Dalen Terry F Arizona

Perhaps Houston uses this pick and their 17th pick to move up, but for now, we’ll have them take Dalen Terry. Terry doesn’t need the ball to make an impact, which will be important alongside Green and Banchero. Terry is a great defender and can do all the important winning plays on the edges.

27. Miami Heat – Christian Koloko C Arizona

The Heat doesn’t have another reliable big man behind Bam Adebayo that can produce in a playoff setting. Like Adebayo, Koloko is a menace switching onto guards and protecting the rim. I love the fit here.

28. Golden State Warriors – Jaylin Williams C Arkansas

Kevon Looney became a folk hero for what he did in the playoffs en route to Golden State’s fourth championship with Steph Curry. Unfortunately, running it back could mean a $400 million payroll next year. I wrote earlier about how well Jaylin Williams’ game matches Looney’s. The Warriors might be light years ahead of the league but even they have to make concessions at some point, right? Why not get the cheaper version of Looney?

29. Memphis Grizzlies – Blake Wesley G Notre Dame

Blake Wesley likely will go sooner than this. I think Wesley needs time to grow and develop before becoming a legitimate producer. Luckily, the Grizzlies are one of the best at developing their own and could use a bucket getter that can play alongside Ja Morant. With an extra first-round pick, why not?

30. Denver Nuggets (via Phoenix Suns thru Oklahoma City Thunder) – Wendell Moore Jr. G Duke

Wendell Moore is used to playing alongside star players and being productive and active without the ball. He’s a plug-and-play player on a team that rightfully sees itself as a contender.

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’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.

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.

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.