Jabari Smith Jr. obviously a had slow start in Las Vegas at the NBA Summer League competition. But things altered for Smith in the second half versus the San Antonio Spurs. Coach Rick Higgins found different spots for Smith to get comfortable on the court. It allowed Smith to find his shot throughout the second half. Smith’s shooting should hopefully stay consistent throughout the Summer League because of his confidence now.
Smith constructed 19 points, 9 rebounds, 2 steals, and 1 block versus the Spurs on Tuesday night. Which most of his efforts came in the second half of play. Besides his huge stat line, Smith also finished with 66.9 percent on true shooting during that contest. Spectators became anxious about when Smith would catch fire from the field, which he did versus the Spurs. The offensive play calling fit his attributes and comfort level on the court. It became more exciting to watch Smith play through adversity of his shot falling and not giving up.
I asked Houston Rockets rookie Jabari Smith Jr. about his play in the fourth quarter after struggling with his shot the first three:— Houston Sports Insider (@BigSargeSportz) July 10, 2022
“Just trying to have a short term memory” #Rockets #LightTheFuse #NBA2K23SummerLeague #Sarge #NBA @jabarismithjr @TheRocketsWire pic.twitter.com/R2oPw5aUky
Smith followed that up with another solid individual performance against the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday night, finishing with 19 points, 10 boards, 2 assists, and a block. He shot 7-13 from the field, though he was 0-5 from deep.
However, the five-out system allows Smith to stretch the floor and take on small defenders. His skill level at 6’10” will create drive byes and pull-ups from wherever on the court. Smith has done great job of getting to his shot, but he’s struggled at times on watching it fall.
Although he struggled with his shooting, it never stopped him from not trying again and being a defensive anchor for the Rockets. Besides his defense, Higgins positioned Smith as a screener on staggered pick-and-pop actions. Daishen Nix or TyTy Washington would attack the screen downhill but find Smith trailing behind him for an open shot. Higgins told reporters this after the game on Tuesday:
“I felt great about it. He was able to get to his spots simpler. The way he decided to put his energy level into the game was my favorite part.”
Smith does an excellent job of getting his shot off the dribble. Whether it’s a layup or pull-up, Smith will get comfortable with whatever shots fits need at that time. For example: Against the Orlando Magic, Smith got pressed by Paolo Banchero at the top of the three-point line and attacked him downhill towards the rim for and-one. As it’s shown, he goes by feel of the defender and how much space they are giving him on the court. If the defender gives Smith space or doesn’t contest, he’ll take the open three.
Now that some of his shots are falling, defenses will play him tighter and blitz those screens, so it will make it harder for Smith to find his shot. Coach Higgins will have some contractions so Smith could become freer on offense when defenses look difficult.
Hopefully, the Rockets can use Smith in a more versatile manor: going around hedge screens while shooting the basketball. Smith attacking a defense off a curl action would tear defensive clip boards apart. It was interesting watching Chet Holmgren make decisions before approaching a screen. Holmgren would attack the rim or a hit step-back three in space. Smith will hopefully expand his creativity with the basketball and become more versatile like Holmgren.
Smith also can become contagious on the offensive glass for the Rockets. He does a great job of blocking out and never giving up in the paint, as his efforts allow him to win offensive rebounding battles. When Smith is struggling shooting the basketball, his best chances are collecting offensive rebounds so he can score at the rim. Smith will impact winning in other ways besides scoring the basketball.
While his offense has improved, his defense has maintained. Smith has shown he can guard one through five for the Rockets. Being able to be in two spots at one time is impressive, and one of the reasons why Smith was a lottery pick. His lateral quickness keeps him in front of anybody on the court, but his defense around rim is what excites spectators for next season. He is disciplined enough to stay balanced when several switches happen on the opposing team’s offense.
Incredible defensive possession by Jabari Smith Jr.— Alykhan Bijani (@Rockets_Insider) July 12, 2022
Watch his POA (point of attack) defense: Disrupts the initial action, and becomes a ball stopper 3 times in 1 possession. Not until late in shot clock does the ball get past the perimeter. Hand placement is excellent (up + in). pic.twitter.com/ArqeiP0kup
Smith also does a great job protecting the rim. Although he’s averages 1.3 blocks per game in Summer League action, he still impacts the game. The only reason why his blocks per game are down is because he is defending perimeter while Tari Eason is on the back end. Smith and Eason will share roles and other activities on defense.
Smith has impressed the coaching staff with his effort throughout the game. It will be entertaining to watch him on both sides this season.