Rockets end of year report card: Jabari Smith Jr

New Orleans Pelicans v Houston Rockets
New Orleans Pelicans v Houston Rockets / Carmen Mandato/GettyImages

With the 2022-23 season in the books for the Houston Rockets, we've started giving out report-card grades to the players, starting with Alperen Sengun. Now we'll shift to Rockets' first-year forward Jabari Smith Jr.

Jabari Smith Jr. entered the NBA with massive expectations on his shoulders, having been drafted 3rd overall by the Houston Rockets and touted as one of the best shooters in college basketball. Standing tall at 6'11, Smith Jr. not only impressed with his shooting prowess but also showcased the potential to be a strong defensive presence in the league.

However, his highly anticipated rookie season got off to a slow start.

Despite his undeniable talent, Jabari struggled to find his rhythm from behind the three-point line during the early stages of the season. This was not entirely his fault, as head coach Stephen Silas revealed that no specific plays were being run for him.

Additionally, Smith Jr. was primarily being utilized as a spot-up three-point shooter, which was not the ideal way to maximize his diverse skill set. As a result, Jabari's early-season performance did not live up to the hype surrounding his arrival in the NBA.

Jabari Smith Jr.'s resilience in the face of adversity is truly commendable. Despite the immense pressure and potential criticism from those expecting instant success, he remained focused and committed to improving his game. It's important to remember that at just 19-years-old, Jabari is one of the top 10 youngest players in the league, which means he has a steep learning curve ahead.

Moreover, the Houston Rockets' roster is among the youngest in the NBA, with a limited number of veteran players in the locker room to provide guidance and mentorship. This unique situation meant that the young players, including Jabari, had to navigate the challenges of professional basketball largely on their own.

Grading Jabari Smith Jr.'s rookie season with the Houston Rockets

In spite of these hurdles, Smith Jr. demonstrated maturity and determination, as he continued to work hard and develop his skills.

This perseverance paid off, as Jabari began to find his footing in the league, gradually adapting to the pace and demands of the NBA. As the season progressed, his shooting improved and he started to make a more significant impact on both ends of the court.

With his head held high and an unwavering commitment to growth, Jabari Smith Jr. has shown that he has the potential to overcome any obstacles that come his way.

Following the All-Star break, Jabari Smith Jr. made significant strides in his game, showcasing a marked improvement in his overall performance. Before the break, he averaged 12 points per game and 7 rebounds on 38.9% shooting. However, after the break, his stats rose to an impressive 14.6 points per game, 7.6 rebounds, and 44.6% shooting. This increase in productivity reflected the growing confidence and comfort Jabari was experiencing on the court.

No longer limited to spot-up three-point shooting, Smith Jr. began to display a more diverse offensive arsenal. His impressive mid-range game and unstoppable post-fadeaways became a regular feature, as he started to unlock his true potential.

These developments allowed him to contribute more effectively to the team's offense and become a more versatile threat to opposing defenses.

One of the standout moments of Jabari Smith Jr.'s rookie season came on March 9th during a thrilling game against the Indiana Pacers. In this unforgettable performance, Jabari showcased his true potential by delivering a staggering 30 points, 12 rebounds, and 3 stocks (combined steals and blocks) on 53% shooting.

This standout game not only demonstrated his scoring prowess but also his ability to contribute on both ends of the floor. To cap off his career-best night, Jabari displayed nerves of steel when he hit a fadeaway three-pointer with just 4 seconds remaining on the clock, forcing the game into overtime.

In conclusion, Jabari Smith Jr.'s rookie season had its fair share of ups and downs. Despite a slow start, he demonstrated immense resilience and commitment to improvement, eventually showcasing his true potential as a 19-year-old elite shooter in the NBA. Considering his progress throughout the season and the challenges faced by such a young player, we give Jabari a well-deserved B- grade. As he continues to develop and refine his skills, we can expect even greater achievements from this promising young talent in the years to come.

Season Grade: B-