The Houston Rockets are currently in rebuild mode, as they've opted to improve their roster organically through the NBA Draft. Such an approach is unique for a franchise that has historically not valued the draft and/or draft picks, but such is life when a consistent title contender comes up short in the postseason year after year.
The challenge with rebuilding through the draft is that the early showings of a rookie draft pick doesn't always look promising, which we saw during Jalen Green's rookie 2021-22 campaign. Green struggled early in the season (14.6 points on 38.7 percent from the field and 31.1 percent from deep prior to the All-Star break), in part to lineup issues, but put together a strong conclusion to the season, as he averaged 22.1 points on 47.6 percent from the field and 38.7 percent from three.
Like Green, Rockets rookie Jabari Smith Jr. has also seen peaks and valleys during his rookie season, as Smith averaged 12 points and 7 rebounds on 38.9 percent from the field and 30.8 percent from 3-point land prior to the All-Star break, but has posted averages of 17 points on 47 percent from three (yes, you read that right) and 53.3 percent from the floor over the Rockets' last four games.
Houston Rockets rookie forward Jabari Smith joins LeBron James in elite group
On Thursday night against the Indiana Pacers, Smith posted 30 points (career-high), 12 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals, becoming the first teenager to post that statline since LeBron James in 2004, who ironically played against Smith's dad, earlier in his career. Smith was 10-of-19 for the night and 3-of-5 from deep, while also adding a block to the fray.
Smith has also been the ninth rookie in 2022-23 to record a 30-point performance, and joins Orlando's Paolo Banchero and Detroit's Jalen Duren as the only rookies to score at least 30 points and nab at least 10 rebounds in a single game this season.
Smith's performance should be a confidence boost, as the degree of difficulty on some of his shots was outerworldly, with him being draped by defenders throughout much of the night, including on the 3-point shot that sent the game to overtime with the clock winding down in regulation.
In addition, you know you're doing something right when you're joining lists with LeBron James, who many view as the best player to ever play the sport, as a rookie. With 16 games remaining for the Rockets, Smith could head into the offseason with a boost of confidence if he can string together more performances like the one against the Pacers on Thursday night.
This would also quell much of the noise from the naysayers regarding how much different his play has looked, compared to his lone collegiate season at Auburn. Hopefully more spectacular performances are in store for Smith down the stretch, as it would do wonders to continue to see his shots falling at a higher clip at the close of his rookie year.