Pondering Jabari Smith on the Spurs: The Safest Bet in the Draft

Currently the favorite to be selected with the first pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, Jabari Smith is a player the San Antonio Spurs would undoubtedly love to add to their roster. While I had him second in my initial Spurs Big Board, there’s an argument that Smith’s skill set is such a perfect fit for the modern NBA that he’s the player the Spurs should select if they get lucky during the May 17th draft lottery and end up with the No. 1 overall pick. 

Why Jabari Smith is Such a Safe Bet

Smith is a 6-foot-10 forward with one of the sweetest shooting strokes on the planet. His footwork, his balance and his high release point are all picture perfect. Smith hit 42.0% of his three-pointers as a freshman at Auburn and 79.9% of his free throws. He hasn’t played a professional game yet but he’s a safe bet to go down as one of the best 6-foot-10 shooters in the history of the sport. 

Due to the precision of his mechanics and his height, Smith is able to get his shot off even when heavily defended. When the going gets tough late in NBA games, Smith will have the wherewithal to be a tough-shot maker. He’s also going to spread the court more than most sharpshooters because defenders will need to be within a step or two in order to even challenge his shot.

Defensively, Smith has the tools needed to thrive anywhere in the frontcourt. He can move his feet out on the perimeter and use his length to challenge shots and clog passing lanes. While he’s only 210 pounds now, he has a frame that can add bulk. Once he does that, he should also become a stout post defender.

Compared to Paolo Banchero and Chet Holmgren, Smith has the highest floor defensively. At the very least, Smith is going to be able to stay on the court in the playoffs — even if he turns out to only be an average defender. 

Holmgren has a much higher defensive ceiling but if he loses quickness while attempting to bulk up, he may become a defensive liability in the playoffs. Banchero, at 250 pounds, lacks elite quickness and isn’t a rim protector, so he too could theoretically become a liability. Smith, on the other hand, moves well enough that he won’t become a postseason liability on that end of the court.

What Would Stop the Spurs from Picking Jabari Smith with the First Pick?

Smith is a future-proof prospect who is destined to be a deadly shooter and a competent-at-worst defensively. He has all the markings of a player who will make at least $200 million in his basketball career. 

So, why isn’t Smith head and shoulders above all the other prospects in this relatively mundane draft class? It comes down to his overall offensive potential and the lack thereof. While he has extreme potential as a spot-up shooter, there are few signs that he’ll evolve into anything beyond that.

The statistic that jumps off the page is Smith’s 43.5% shooting on two-pointers. For a 6-foot-10 college player, that’s a very worrying number. To put the dreariness of that percentage in perspective, that would have ranked in the bottom five in the NBA last season. If you want to find a Spurs-related comparison, you’d have to look at Marco Belinelli’s two-point percentage at the tail end of his career.

The main issue within the arc for Smith is that he has a really slow first step. After failing to beat his defender off the dribble, he’s oftentimes forced to fire an off-balance midrange jumper. 

In the NBA, barring a miraculous amount of further development, Smith’s slow first step will relegate him to spot-up duty. He’s also a below average ball-handler and a below average passer, so those traits only compound his plodding first step. 

Jabari Smith on the San Antonio Spurs

To get Smith, the Spurs would most likely need to win the draft lottery. If he doesn’t get selected first, it appears likely that he’ll go in the top two.

While Smith will fall to the third spot in my upcoming Spurs Big Board, I wouldn’t be upset if the Spurs select him. He’s an extremely safe pick who can be a cornerstone to a franchise. He may never be a first or even a second option on offense — but his combination of size and shooting brings a ton of value to the table. Add in the confidence that his defense will translate to the NBA and the reports of his strong character traits and Smith as San Antonio’s preferred draft target wouldn’t be much of a surprise.

If this dream becomes reality, Smith is a Day 1 starter at forward next to Keldon Johnson. His shooting and defensive versatility would be so valuable that he’d average 30-plus minutes per game, even as a teenager.

Let’s hope that after the May 17th lottery that the most pressing issue for Spurs fans is a Jabari Smith versus Chet Holmgren versus Paolo Banchero debate.