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SN Draft Lab: What did Auburn’s Jabari Smith Jr. skyrocket on the Mock Draft boards?

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SN Draft Lab: What did Auburn’s Jabari Smith Jr. skyrocket on the Mock Draft boards?

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The SN Draft Lab puts the best college, G League and international players under the microscope as we move towards the 2022 NBA Draft. NBA scouts face the daunting task of evaluating talent not only in based on what players can do now, but also how they project themselves into the NBA game in the future. Throughout the 2021-22 season, Sporting News will break down the biggest prospects, projects and matchups to bring you the latest information on the names rising and falling on the scoreboards.

Heading into the 2021-22 college basketball season, the race for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft was seen as a two-man race between Duke’s Paolo Banchero and Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren. Both prospects were seen as head and shoulders above the court with skills well advanced for players their age at their height.

MORE: One Play: Banchero and Holmgren show why they’re potential No. 1 picks

But as the season unfolds, there’s another prospect that has played its way into consideration for the top pick in the upcoming NBA draft: Auburn forward Jabari Smith Jr. has entered the chat.

(Getty Pictures)

The 18-year-old freshman has scouts in love with his NBA-ready body, silky shot and two-way potential as a versatile defender.

Listed at 6 feet 10 inches, 220 pounds. with a wingspan of over 7 feet, Smith has all the physical tools to succeed at the next level. Averaging 15.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.0 blocks per game so far, Smith is filling out the stat sheet at both ends of the floor every night. . When you factor in the fact that he’s effectively shooting 45.7% from the field and 43.0% (!) from 3, you can begin to imagine why he’s making his way into the No. 1 overall pick discussions. .

MORE: NCAA hoops Power Rankings: Where did Auburn land?

In fact, according to NBA Draft analyst Chad Ford, Smith became “a pretty big favorite” to hear his name called first by NBA commissioner Adam Silver. “Of the lottery teams I’ve surveyed, he’s become a pretty big favorite among most of them,” Ford reported, while mentioning that Banchero and Holmgren still have support to go No. 1 as well.

But what exactly was it about Smith that drove him to create mock drafts?

Let’s start with his shooting touch.

How many times could you argue that a 6-foot-10 forward can have the best jumper in his draft class? In recent memory, Kevin Durant is the only example I can think of (and no, that’s not a comparison between Smith and one of the greatest goalscorers the game has ever seen).

Nonetheless, Smith’s smooth shooting motion, high clearance, and soft touch put him on par with all his sniper peers.

Give him an inch of space on the perimeter and he’ll stop and charge you instantly.

If he has a lag on the inside, you’ll see his patience to face his defender, jab step or flash his coordinated footwork and shoot just over the top.

The majority of his jumpshot attempts have been catch-and-shoot so far this season, but he has some raw shot-creating skills that could develop if he tightens his grip and establishes some go-to moves. . He’s comfortable grabbing a rebound and picking up the pace in transition, but his ball handling can get away from him at times, which prevents him from being much of a threat to score or make play on the open court.

He still has some way to go in those areas, which could limit his ceiling as a potential superstar or No. 1 option on a team, but that shot to his size makes him a dream come true in today’s NBA. today, though he never becomes a prolific planner.

I also think Smith’s ability as a screenmaker in pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop scenarios will become an unlocked asset at the NBA level – something he doesn’t. a ton from Auburn right now.

MORE: SN’s Midseason All-America Teams

Defensively, he’s mobile on the perimeter and physical on the inside, making him a candidate for defending 3-5 but also moving comfortably to guards. Averaging one block and one steal per game, Smith has good instincts and quick hands, though he’s not super nervous or energetic at this end of the court. His biggest impact as a defender is on the perimeter, where his size and reach stifle opponents looking to attack and score.

He’s not your prototypical big who will sit in the paint and shield the rim, but his defensive IQ and length positions him to challenge shots around the basket. (It should also be noted that it’s not his job to anchor Auburn’s defense as a rim protector, with Walker Kessler’s 4.2 blocks from 7 feet per game leading the nation among schools. Power 5.)

Smith is a bit of a ‘tweener’ and it will be interesting to see if NBA teams consider him more of a small forward on the wing or a power forward on the inside, even in the game increasingly without position today.

Smith has all the tools of an adaptable forward in today’s NBA, giving him very high potential. The biggest question surrounding the Auburn freshman is what is his ceiling?

At 18, that’s certainly still undefined, but it’s hard not to be encouraged by the direction he’s headed in as a potential No. 1 pick.

SN Draft Lab: What did Auburn’s Jabari Smith Jr. skyrocket on the Mock Draft boards?

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