Maryland’s Jalen Smith is an athletic big man who can shoot from outside. Will he be available when the New York Knicks are on the clock?
The New York Knicks have long preached to their fans about a culture change, and if they’re serious about that change, Maryland Terrapins forward Jalen Smith is a player that needs to be on their radar.
Smith boasts a 6-foot-10, 225-pound frame with a 7-foot-1 wingspan. But according to the Washington City Paper’s Don Markus, Smith’s physical and mental maturity is the product of hard work and humble disposition that enables him to tune out the noise and focus on the task at hand.
Markus details Smith’s transformation as he put on a reported 30 pounds of muscle since he stepped on the College Park campus. A player affectionately referred to as “Stix” put in the necessary gym work to take his game to the next level. Furthermore, Smith’s story of perseverance also includes visits with a sports psychologist after an early shooting slump caused him to doubt his skills.
“Pretty much I had someone to talk to,” Smith says. “They specialize in figuring out ways to cope with things and how to relax. That helped me out a lot, dealing with the pressure of the season and the expectations I had on myself, allowing me to play my game and forget about everything else.”
Despite society’s movement towards a progressive stance on therapy, some athletes and fans still hold onto the negative stigmas often associated with getting help. Smith’s maturity demonstrates his willingness to leave no stone unturned with regards to his success both on and off the basketball court.
In the words of the great Walt “Clyde” Frazier, “Persistence personified!” Smith’s hard work paid off as he finished his sophomore year shooting 36% from the three-point line on 87 attempts. He ended up averaging 15 points and 10 rebounds per game on his way towards All-Big Ten and All-Big Ten Defensive selections.
Smith’s size and developing shooting touch will make him a first-round lock. However, the versatile forward is not without his faults and certainly has his work cut out for him at the professional level. Let’s take a look at his strengths, weaknesses and, overall fit with the Knicks.
Smith’s shooting is an obvious strength. According to the Stepien’s Spencer Pearlman, Smith is not just a pick-and-pop big. At Maryland, Smith was used in dribble hand-off situations and was able to shoot on the move coming off of screens and pin-downs. According to Synergy, Smith shot within the 60th percentile in jump shots and within the 56th percentile in catch-and-shoot situations.
Even though those stats are not super impressive, Smith’s shooting form, which appears to be mechanically sound, is compact and repeatable. Thus, if Smith is paired on the floor with a guard who commands defenders to pack the paint, I’m buying that those percentages will increase.
At the college level, Smith’s offensive efficiency was pretty ridiculous. Per Synergy, he ranked within the 99th percentile in points-per-possession in transition and within the 93rd percentile in PPP in the half-court. The video below shows Smith’s ability to hit the open three as a trailer and his awareness in transition as he finishes with a ferocious dunk.
Against Rutgers, Jalen Smith comes out of drop coverage to get a really well-timed block and then hits the three at the other end. There’s a lot to like in this clip. pic.twitter.com/dszJ5Z577n
— Geoffrey Campbell (@geoff_boy_ardee) May 6, 2020
Smith box-plus-minus (12.3) ranked seventh in the nation and a big part of that was his defense. Smith averaged over two blocks per game and totaled more rebounds than USC’s Onyeka Okongwu and more blocks than Duke Center Vernon Carey Jr.
Smith is a capable rim-protecting big with solid instincts. He may not have the tier-one athleticism of a Mitchell Robinson, but his timing is good and he doesn’t foul often.
Offensively, despite adding muscle and weight since his freshmen year, Smith tends to get pushed off his spot in the post. He doesn’t possess a ton of lower-body strength. He has decent moves once he gets down there and can seal off smaller defenders, but ranks only within the 60th percentile in PPP in post-ups per Synergy.
Additionally, when you feed Smith the ball off the pick-and-roll, he’s typically going to try and finish with a dunk. He’s not strong enough to finish through a lot of contact, and he’s not going to adjust much in the air. Scouts call him fluid athlete, but he seems a bit stiff when he puts the ball on the floor and his decisions can seem telegraphed.
As Pearlman points out in the video below, Smith shies away from contact and doesn’t appear to use his strength well. Even the pump fake isn’t necessary during this possession. Furthermore, when he drives to the hoop, instead of going at the body of the defender, Smith sometimes lunges to the right or left side of the basket to try and get the scoop layup.
Came away a bit disappointed w/Jalen Smith after watching him vs URI. I was expecting a bigger game on both ends, but did not really get it. He's definitely bigger, but he wasn't able to fully use his strength + missed his 3s
This clip was one that popped in a poor way. pic.twitter.com/akjkBXYd40
— Spencer (@SKPearlman) November 10, 2019
Finally, while I don’t consider this a glaring weakness, Smith did have a small blip on the character radar. After a big win over conference rivals Indiana University, Smith left the court chirping at the Assembly Hall faithful, and Terrapins coach Mark Turgeon was not happy.
Again, it’s a big game, it’s emotional, everyone loses there composure now and then, but Turgeon did make it a point to apologize during the postgame interview, and to his credit, Smith did as well.
Fit with the Knicks
Honestly, Jalen Smith fits on any basketball team. You can’t have enough size and shooting on your squad. Smith is what fans wanted Bobby Portis to be this season. He could be a great second-unit big who can anchor the defense and hit the open shot. ESNY’s Joe Lotano, saw Smith several times this season and has high praise for the 20-year-old.
“Jalen has an incredibly high ceiling. His stature gives him an edge inside on both sides of the court,” Lotano said. “At the same time, he has guard-like qualities in the open court and behind the three-point line. If he can continue to build muscle, he can be an extremely valuable stretch-four at the next level.”
Smith will most likely get drafted somewhere towards the end of the first round. If he’s still available at 27, team president Leon Rose, general manager Scott Perry, and the rest of the Knicks front office should jump at the chance to add Smith to their young core.