Jabari Smith Jr. didn’t come into the league as the most polished offensive product this past June, but many did see him as potentially the most lethal shooter in the draft. While his career hasn’t gotten off to as much of a spectacular start as some of his peers, there’s still plenty of time for him to narrow the gap and demonstrate the touch that had garnered him some high comparisons. *whispers* it was Kevin Durant...
Let’s cut straight to the point, he hasn’t shot well from anywhere other than the free throw line in his first 15 games. That’s honestly not worrisome in my opinion. Shooting slumps happen, especially for young players. I am bothered though.
I’m bothered that he is a young player struggling to find where he fits within the offense and no one is making an effort to position him in spots that will help him get out of his funk.
Putting Smith in a stationary spot and expecting him to space the floor has clearly not been the answer thus far. So... what can be done about this? Well, there’s a couple of slight adjustments that can be done that just might get the kid going.
I’m not just here to complain, I provide suggestions too.
For starters, get him in motion. Stephen Silas should really look to involve him in the pick-and-roll action more, much like they have done with Alperen Sengun lately. Although Jabari hasn’t finished great around the rim, an increase in PnR may help him get to the line, which is the only place he’s shot well so far.
At 84 percent from the charity stripe, Smith has already shown that he has a reliable shot. That’s the main reason why I’m not worried about his future prospects as far as long-distance shooting goes. Good free throw shooters tend to translate to good shooters in general. The positive reinforcement he’ll get from seeing the ball go through the net will give him the confidence to raise his 31 percent field goal and 30 percent three-point rates.
Another benefit of the PnR game is that it limits the amount of times he’ll need to dribble. He’s working on that skill, but it’s still a work in progress. Although it’s a small sample size, he’s actually shooting his best on shots that require only one bounce.
I’d next love to see the guards, mainly Kevin Porter Jr., get Smith looks earlier in the game. Jabari has taken his least amount of shots in the first quarter and to echo what former Houston Rockets’ point guard John Wall recently said, it’s on KPJ to get his teammates going early.
It’s easy to see how John Wall rubbed off on Kevin Porter Jr.— Kelly Iko (@KellyIko) November 4, 2022
The aggression. The swagger. The confidence. The need to create for others.
Wednesday night was a reunion, a reference point and a reminder of the job ahead.
Exclusive for @TheAthleticNBA: https://t.co/NWFfpBtZo3
We are all aware of Porter’s immense ability to create for himself, but getting everyone else involved is what it’s going to require for this team to take that next step.
My third suggestion is that the team makes a lineup change. The most played 5-man combination for the Rockets this season has been the starting lineup of KPJ - Jalen Green - Eric Gordon - Jabari - Sengun. However, that group has a net rating of -16.2 per 100 possessions, meaning they are off to a disadvantage from the onset.
Houston’s top five 5-man combos all have one similar piece, and that player is KJ Martin. Tari Eason also finds his way into four of those five lineups, but I’d lean towards the better shooter in this circumstance.
The best lineup that includes both Jabari and KJ also happens to already feature KPJ, Jalen and Alpie. Combined, that quintet was +11.9 (now at an even 0.0 after the Indiana Pacers game).
Replacing EG with KJ before the ball even tips off would give the Rockets another exceptional defender at their disposal. Even better, that defense can create fast break opportunities and easy buckets for Jabari.
I also don’t think the #Rockets can cater 100% of their decisions to making sure every player we’ve drafted the last 2 years maximizes their playing time. We’re supposed to be more competitive next season. Gup isn’t on track to being ready - that’s just reality— James Piercey (@JamesPiercey11) November 17, 2022
As my colleague wisely pointed out, it’s going to be difficult to ensure each prospect gets catered to. However, when it comes to a player you have invested the third overall pick on, you better do all you can to make sure they fulfill their potential.
Once the Rockets make it a point to integrate Jabari into the offense and play to his strengths, that’s when I envision he will turn into the shooter we hoped for.