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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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The early returns of Jabari Smith Jr. at center are promising

All things considered, the Rockets' defense was impressive with Smith at center. They utilized the lineup’s increased speed to deter 3-pointers, force turnovers, and were disciplined about fouling. However, the pitfalls of playing small haunted them. They gave up too many shots around the rim and got crushed on the boards. 

However, those aren’t problems created by Jabari Smith Jr. at center, they’re problems that he is being asked to clean up. The rest of the Rockets lineup was also extremely undersized and, outside of Eric Gordon, was inexperienced. The fact that Smith at center wasn’t an abject disaster is incredibly encouraging long-term. 

After four NBA games, Jabari Smith Jr. has shown he is a lineup locksmith. In the modern NBA, there might not be a more valuable trait than positional versatility. Being able to play big, small, fast, and slow all in the same game gives teams a distinct tactical edge. It prevents weaknesses from being exposed and allows you to punish your opponents' deficiencies mercilessly. His performance against the Utah Jazz was a proof of concept, and if the early returns are to be believed, the Rockets should have a lineup edge for years to come. 


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