Pick #1 3rd overall: Jabari Smith Jr (Forward, Auburn)
Jabari Smith Jr isn’t Paolo Banchero, but that doesn’t hurt the Rockets’ grade at all. The 2022 draft had three players in contention for the first overall pick, and the Rockets ended up with one of them. Smith was the best player available, which always helps your grade, and he fills a position of need.
Smith is widely viewed as the best shooter in the draft. Standing 6’10 and in possession of a high release, he may never truly experience a contested jumper. His size and relative mobility also suggest he’ll be a defensive plus. He’s the rare player that may be a plus-3 and a plus-D.
His two shortcomings are ball handling and interior finishing. His lack of a handle and dribble moves likely played a role in his inability to finish around the rim. However, Auburn provided Smith with limited space to get easy buckets around the rim. Their starting center, Walker Kessler who was selected with the 22nd pick, was a lumbering non-shooting center and their guards were frustrating, to say the least. There’s a chance that Smith sees an uptick in his 2-point production in the NBA, but it’ll still be an area he needs to work on.
The dribbling is the swing skill for Smith. If he never becomes a solid ball-handler he’ll max out as an elite 3-and-D player. However, if he ever becomes average to better at handling the ball he could very well become a superstar.
Smith fills an immediate need for the Rockets as well. Their starting power forward, Jae’Sean Tate, was not only undersized but also a non-shooter. Smith easily slides into this spot and his shooting should open up the court even more for Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr.
The other bonus with selecting Smith is that he is a perfect pairing with Alperen Sengun. For as gifted as Sengun is as a low-post scorer and passer, his fit with Paolo Banchero always seemed awkward. Smith should allow for Sengun to cook on offense while also cleaning up for him on the defensive end. His presence will give the franchise clarity over Sengun’s long-term role, which is better to know before a player is extension eligible.
Smith’s low-end outcome is still extremely valuable, and he still has superstar potential. The Rockets got the third-best player in the draft with the third overall pick. Factor in the fit, and that’s an easy A.