Why Rockets' Jabari Smith Jr. Can Be Traded

Golden State Warriors v Houston Rockets
Golden State Warriors v Houston Rockets / Tim Warner/GettyImages

Since the Rockets' James Harden trade in 2020, they have been embarking on a new journey as a franchise. Year by year, they have added top tier young talent to their team and have progressively improved. With this new saga culminating in their first .500 season post-Harden, a common question has been asked.

How can the Rockets move to the next level?

Beyond the surface, the answer may not be as simple as Jalen Green and Alperen Sengun's fervent yet sometimes adversarial fanbases presume. Though the Rockets have a sufficient amount of trade assets, there are still legitimate concerns about how a superstar trade could potentially gut their young core and future. I wholly agree with this sentiment. It's hard not to buy into this core's potential, especially when its young prospects string together great performances.

While a superstar trade is too precarious, the Rockets will have to eventually seek trades that may involve few of these prospects if they hope to improve.

Jabari Smith Jr. particularly could be a great trade asset.

The 6'11 power forward has been solid throughout his career with averages of 13.3 ppg and 7.6 rpg on 33.5% three point shooting. Along with that, he is a stellar interior defender who was instrumental in the Rockets' defensive success in the 2023-24 season. He could certainly be a great addition to teams seeking a stretch four, while also rounding out their defense.

When it comes to the Rockets' current depth, there is no shortage of skillsets amongst the various players. Hence, deciding who are the untouchable assets and who aren't comes down to their compatibility and ceilings with the current team.

When compared to his teammates, Jabari Smith Jr. doesn't seem as promising a fit.

After a slow start to the season, Jalen Green's excellent play in March reiterated one thing above all: he has one of the best heaters in the league. He was able to find a perfect yin-yang between shooting and finishing and contributed to winning basketball, something that has often been a point of critique amongst skeptics. The rookie Cam Whitmore was the epitome of a scorer, averaging an astounding 12.3 ppg in just 18.7 mpg. Before getting injured, Tari Eason brought grit on both ends of the floor with strong shooting, rebounding, and versatile defense.

The pinnacle of the Rockets' core was by far Alperen Sengun, who had a breakout season averaging 21.1 ppg, 9.3 rpg, and 5.0 apg. Furthermore, the pick and roll between him and Fred VanVleet quickly became a staple of the Rockets offense along his unadultered paint dominance.

Likewise, Jabari Smith Jr. also steadily improved in the 2023-2024 season. However, with the Rockets' main struggles being on the offensive end, it is uncertain how he could help alleviate this problem.

A further dive into his offense throughout the 2023-24 season reveals that he attempted his most shots from 25-29 feet (where he shoots 35.0%), even more than from less than 5 ft (where he shoots 65.4%). Though he shoots at a decent percentage, shooting at that high a volume from that distance is not conducive for the Rockets' success. Especially when his finishing seems to be a more effective tool. The advantage that his ability to play the perimeter provides spacing wise is minimized by the fact that he shares it with Dillon Brooks, who is inconsistent and streaky from three.

As the Rockets are a middle of the pack three point shooting team, it is imperative for them to acquire better shooting if they hope to improve. Trading a stretch four and strong defender such as Jabari Smith Jr. is a realistic means by which they can do so.

How the Rockets Should Proceed

The Rockets' main priority in the coming season should be to find their offensive identity. Their shortage of one is particularly depicted towards the end of games, where possessions sometimes culminate in late shot clock heaves by Fred VanVleet. The frequency of isolation by Dillon Brooks, who is at times an offensive liability, also symbolizes the team's room for improvement offensively.

Overall, re-routing Jabari Smith Jr. in a trade for more shooting would help the Rockets take the next step on the stairway to playoff contention. It would also create avenues for exciting players such as Tari Eason or Cam Whitmore to potentially become starters and fulfill their potential.