• Sudeep Tumma

Scouting Report: Jabari Smith Has All the Makings of a No. 1 Pick

He started the season as a project lottery pick, but he's proven to be so much more.

Perhaps you’ve heard the Kevin Durant comparisons, perhaps you haven’t. But I’m here to tell you: Jabari Smith is the real deal

The Auburn big man has been a freshman sensation who's in the conversation for the National Player of the Year award. Smith has been the offensive engine for the No. 2-ranked Tigers.

There are few players in the past decade and a half who have drawn comparisons to Durant, but Smith fits the mold. It's the body type for one, but also Smith's elite ability to knock down jumpers over defenders that really fuels the comparison.

That's the first trait you have to highlight.

At 6-foot-10, Smith possesses a natural shooting motion with a high release point on his jumper. He’s uber aggressive at hunting his shot and will pull up with just an inch of space. And he’s capable of hitting them.

His one-dribble pull-up is deadly.

Smith operates from the elbows/high post area so well. He’ll jab-step his defender once or twice and create just a few inches of his space, but with his gaudy jumper, he’ll hit contested shots on the regular.

Then from 3-point range, Smith is dangerous. He operates well in catch-and-shoot situations and is equally adept at creating off a few dribbles. Despite the level of difficulty on those shots, Smith is shooting a blistering 44.2% from deep.

And if/when you’re forced to close out, Smith can put the ball on the floor and attacks the basket. Now, Smith isn’t quite an explosive athlete, but he’s still a solid, smooth one with a good first step. But it’s really his IQ, length and skill which allow him to get a step.

Admittedly, Smith struggles some as a finisher with his 220-pound frame, but that’ll improve as he packs on muscle. Which should also be a boost to his low post game.

At this point, you’re not going to see Smith back down a defender in the low post, but he’ll work the face-up game with the aforementioned jab step, rip moves, etc. and attack the rim. And often times in those situations, instead of finishing through contact, he’ll opt for a turnaround, step back or fade away jumper close to the basket.

But let’s not forget, he’s still a big man. Smith flourishes as the screener in pick-and-roll/pick-and-pop situations.

That all mixes in with his point forward skills. Smith has underrated handles in the open floor — you’ll see some sweet crossovers and behind-the-back moves. But there’s still room for improvement in that department. As he gets better there, he’ll be an even more dangerous shot creator.

Off a rebound, he’s capable of taking it coast-to-coast and scoring. And he’s a solid playmaker out of doubles who finds cutters and/or shooters.

Whether on the low block, high post or on the perimeter, Smith sees the floor well.

Then as a rebounder, Smith’s uses his length well to grab boards. He’s averaging 6.2 rebounds on the year.

Almost ironically, Smith appears to be a better perimeter defender than post at this point in his career.

It’s his high IQ and instincts that show up on defense. Smith moves really well laterally, which allows him to switch onto guards and stick like glue. That gives him the coveted defensive versatility that’s so vital to modern-day NBA defensive schemes.

Smith uses his length well to locate the ball and pickpocket defenders, but also reads and attacks passing lanes well. That’s where his 1.5 steals per game comes from.

Wwith his length and foot speed, Smith has true shot-blocking upside, but he’s yet to really put it together with only 0.9 blocks per game this year.

However you slice it, there’s still so much upside with his physical gifts and athleticism. Which is a scary thought considering the gobs of talent he already boasts.

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