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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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Can Jabari Smith Jr. really play center?

Making sweeping statements about a player after one game is foolish, and it’s why we leave that type of talk to the experts like Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless. Unfortunately, in the case of Jabari Smith Jr. at center, we only have one game to go off, and it’s a mixed bag. 

The offensive advantages of Jabari Smith Jr. at center

Starting with the positives, Smith at center appeared to have positive benefits for the Rockets' offense. Kevin Porter Jr. and Jalen Green had their best combined performance of the season. Porter went for a season-high 26 points, and Green scored 25 points on a 68.8% effective field goal percentage. 

Beyond the box score, the shape of their offensive production was encouraging, especially Porter’s. Entering the contest against Utah, Porter had converted a concerning low rate of his shots within ten feet of the basket, hitting 2 of 7 shots 0 to 3 feet from the rim and 1 of 10 shots from 3 to 10 feet. He’d also only gotten to the line 11 times in three games. Against Utah, Porter went 2 of 2 at the rim, 4 of 6 in the short mid-range, and got to the line nine times. 

With Smith at center, the lane opened up for Porter and allowed him to have his most effective game attacking the basket. The move won’t be a cure-all for Porter’s struggles closer to the basket. After all, the Jazz are not a strong defensive team and had ridden extremely fortunate opponent 3-point shooting to their 3-0 record, but it does offer the Rockets an avenue to get their backcourt going if needed. 

As for Smith, he had the best offensive game of his four-game career. He scored a career-high 21 points on a career-low 10 field goal attempts, got to the line six times and dished two assists, both career-highs. A large part of his increased efficiency was having the rim all to himself. 

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