Rockets News

Jabari Smith Jr. at center is the Houston Rockets' lineup 'Locksmith'

N.B. Lindberg
Utah Jazz v Houston Rockets
Utah Jazz v Houston Rockets / Carmen Mandato/GettyImages
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The Houston Rockets bested the Utah Jazz 114-108 to secure their first win of the season. It was a much-needed victory after starting the season 0-3 and staring at a stretch that will see them play nine games out of 11 on the road. 

While the performance led to a win, it was hardly the most aesthetically pleasing affair. At times, the game barely resembled an NBA competition as mistakes, turnovers, and poor shooting dogged both sides early on. However, a win is a win, and one key wrinkle should have Rockets fans even more excited than the victory itself, Jabari Smith Jr.’s got his first NBA start at center. 

Jabari Smith Jr. was once a buzzkill 

For much of the build-up to the 2022 NBA draft, the Orlando Magic were linked to Jabari Smith Jr. with the first overall pick. His combination of size, length, lateral mobility, and shooting made him the perfect modern stretch forward prospect and worthy of the first overall selection. However, on draft day, the Magic made a U-turn and instead selected Duke’s Paolo Banchero, sending Smith tumbling to the Rockets at the third overall pick

Due to the pre-draft belief that Smith would go first and Chet Holmgren would go second, Rockets fans had spent months building fantasies of Paolo Banchero donning the red and orchestrating the most devastating two-man game in NBA history with Jalen Green. The Magic’s trick led to Smith’s selection receiving an underwhelming amount of hype in the moment, but the muted response would only be temporary. 

Smith’s skillset meshes perfectly with the young core the Rockets have been assembling. Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr. need the ball to be at their best. Smith doesn’t and is a true floor spacer. Alperen Sengun is an ambitious passer and low-block menace but struggles to defend the interior. Smith is an excellent defender on the perimeter and can protect a defense’s weak side. Smith fit the Rockets like a glove, or like the right key fits a lock.