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Houston Rockets: How Jabari Smith Jr. can win Rookie of the Year 

N.B. Lindberg
2022 NBA Rookie Portraits
2022 NBA Rookie Portraits / Gregory Shamus/GettyImages
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What are the chances Jabari Smith Jr. hits the Rookie of the Year benchmarks?

The first bars Jabari Smith Jr. will need to hurdle are the most unpredictable, games and minutes. The Rockets should start him from day one and play him big minutes, but injuries are always unexpected. However, Smith’s style of play should lend itself to staying healthy.

He doesn’t fly above the rim with abandon and shouldn’t bang bodies with centers for extended stretches. Perhaps most importantly, he is young and doesn’t have a concerning injury history. I’d give him a 75% of exceeding the 72-game threshold and a 50% chance of playing more than 34.1 minutes per game, as minutes per game have trended down the past decade. 

Impressive raw scoring totals have routinely captured the eye of Rookie of the Year voters, but with efficiency more valued league-wide, Smith has another avenue to make a run at the award. 

In college, Smith would fade in and out of the offense. It wasn’t for a lack of effort, but rather a product of poor guard play. The Rockets have a lot of players who excel with the ball in their hands. This could lead to low shot totals for Smith but also a lot of open looks and excellent efficiency. 

Expect Smith’s scoring volume to fluctuate early in the season but for it to stabilize around the 20-game mark. If he’s able to secure 15 shots a night, then 17 points per game on good efficiency is in play, but if he’s in the 10 to 12 range, he’ll have to be peak Kyle Korver from beyond the arc to gain much traction. I think there is a 40% chance Smith gets enough shooting opportunities to challenge for Rookie of the Year, but an 80% chance his efficiency is where it needs to be. 

It would be an unforeseen development if Smith sniffed the 4.5 assists per game mark. His lack of ball handling and the presence of Kevin Porter Jr, Jalen Green, and Alperen Sengun pulling the strings will eat into his playmaking opportunities substantially. I give him a 1.5% chance to reach 4.5 assists per game, and if he does, it means one of two things, Smith is a future MVP or something horrible has happened on the injury front. 

If Smith won’t be able to sniff the Rookie of the Year passing threshold, he’ll need to make up for it on the boards. The average Rookie of the Year snagged 6.2 rebounds per game, and Smith should have the opportunity to make a killing here. 

The Rockets projected starting lineup of Alperen Sengun, Jae’Sean Tate, Jalen Green, Kevin Porter Jr., and Smith is light on rebounding. So while the Rockets may be a poor rebounding team overall, it does mean that Smith can grab a healthy portion of them. I give him a 75% chance of besting 6.2 rebounds per game and a 50% chance to get past 8.0

As it pertains to advanced metrics, it’s far too early to know where Smith will stand. There’s a chance that the team’s overall poor defense tanks his rankings, but if the eye test says otherwise, which is a distinct possibility, it shouldn’t matter. Smith’s player profile as a lower-usage high-efficiency player bodes well for him racking up win shares but not VORP. 

Win shares highly values shooting efficiency and rebounding, while VORP tends to favor higher usage players. There’s a good chance that Smith will be one of the best rookies in win shares but be middle of the pack for VORP. I give him a 66% chance to reach the win shares benchmark of 5.4 but only a 33% chance to get to 1.96 VORP

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