Jabari Smith Jr. is the best prospect in the 2022 NBA Draft, hands down. There are other talented players in this class who we will cover in the coming days, but there is no one quite like Smith.
While he isn’t close to where he can be as a finished product, he has the skill set to be an immediate impact player from Day 1. Smith has the defensive versatility of a player like Scottie Barnes, but blends that with knock-down three-point shooting.
Landing Smith would be a miracle for the New York Knicks. They have a 9.4% chance to jump into the top four and a 2.0% chance to secure the No. 1 pick. They will need to be no lower than four to have any shot at Smith. The NBA Lottery is May 17.
6’10”, 220, F, Auburn (2003)
Strengths: Defensive Versatility & Three-Point Shooting
These two skills are why I have Smith rated so highly. Switchy, versatile defenders are one of the most important pieces to a championship roster. It’s fitting that draft prep occurs during the playoffs because that is when these types of versatile defenders are on full display.
At 6-foot-10 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan and quick feet, Smith can guard any position on the floor. While he’s not necessarily a true back-to-the-basket rim protector, he is capable of handling any type of switch.
Offensively, he still has room to grow, but we can get into that in a moment. His three-point shooting is a big reason why he’s going to be an impact player from game one. He shot 42% on 5.5 three-point attempts per game during his one year at Auburn. If he can translate that to the next level, he will step into the NBA as an elite 3-and-D player.
“NBA ready” is an understatement in this case.
Weaknesses: Finishing Through Contact
But if Smith can round out his offensive game, he will develop into a bonafide superstar. It’s easy to forget just how young some of these top prospects are when they enter the Association. Smith will be 19 when he makes his NBA debut.
He still has a lot of room to grow into his body. Finishing through contact and overall shot creation is going to be the next stage of his development. Smith is a tough kid, but he’s still figuring these parts of his game out.
If he can finish consistently at the rim and add a mid-range package to his game, there will be no way to stop Smith.
From The Expert: Auburn Video Coordinator Ian Borders
“Defensively, this kid has a lot of potential switching one through five and being able to disrupt anything on the ball and off the ball,” Ian Borders said on ESNY’s Knicks State of Mind podcast. “He is your prototypical NBA — I hate to say big man — we call them big guards at Auburn.”
Borders acknowledged the need for Smith to increase his lower body strength, but finishing through contact doesn’t sound like a huge concern from his perspective. According to Borders, Smith’s reliance on the three-point shot was more a factor of Auburn’s offensive strategy rather than an unwillingness on his part to drive to the rim.
“We saw that Jabari shooting jump shots, either over defenders that are smaller than him or against bigs that he could go by, we were going to have success one way or another,” Border’s explained. “Well, teams started playing him with smaller guards. So at that point, we just had him shooting over the top every single time, which just made sense.”
Fit With the Knicks
If you haven’t figured it out by now, Smith will fit on any roster in the NBA. He could go to a championship contender (which won’t happen) and immediately enter the rotation as a 3-and-D wing. The more likely outcome will be that Smith finds himself as a top option on an NBA bottom feeder.
The Knicks are somewhat in the middle of that spectrum. They are one year removed from the playoffs, but desperately need an infusion of talent. Smith is the type of player who could drastically change the future of the Knicks. Leapfrogging into the top four picks and snagging Smith would be fantastic for Leon Rose’s job security.
But front offices can’t rely on luck when building a team.