The Detroit Pistons enter the 2022 offseason tied for the best odds to land the number one pick in the NBA Draft Lottery. With the third-worst record in the NBA, the Pistons’ lottery odds give them a 40.1 percent chance at a top-three pick and a 52 percent chance to stay in the top four.
If Detroit lands a top-three pick after the lottery, GM Troy Weaver will be guaranteed one of the three big men who headline this year’s draft class. Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren is likely the GM’s first choice, but not far behind is Auburn power forward Jabari Smith.
Smith likely edges out Duke’s Paolo Banchero on the Pistons’ draft board. In his lone season with Auburn, Smith averaged 16.9 points per game, sixth-most in the SEC. His 7.4 rebounds per game ranked seventh in the SEC as well. The freshman’s stellar season culminated in him being named to the All-SEC First Team.
Smith fills a lot of needs for the Pistons. He will be an impact player immediately, and he has plenty of room to grow beyond that. Holmgren may be the top target, he has the higher ceiling after all, but Smith may just be the more sure bet to reach his full potential. If the Pistons miss out on Holmgren, they will have no issue taking Smith if he is available.
Smith is a three-point machine
Smith is at his best when he is playing along the perimeter. The big man shot 42 percent on 5.5 three-pointers per game at Auburn. He has beautiful shot mechanics. He combines a fluid motion with a high release.
Smith is an effective catch-and-shoot option. He moves off-ball pretty well. In pick-and-pops he is able to create separation, and he is an effective pull-up shooter in transition.
He is effective in the mid-range game as well. Smith has a knack for getting his shot over defenders in traffic, often favoring a jab step to create separation from his defender.
Offensively, he can improve in just about every other area
For a big man, Smith has a decent handle. He can grab a defensive rebound and run the transition offense with relative ease.
As a playmaker, there is a lot to be desired. Smith averaged two assists per game this past season, he also averaged 1.9 turnovers. In transition, he favored a pull-up three-pointer rather than finding the open man. At times, he flashed the makings of a decent playmaker. Late in the season, he showed he could make the right reads out of double-teams and out of the post. But the consistency was not there.
When he attacks the basket, Smith struggles to generate easy looks for himself. He simply does not have the skillset to effectively drive to the rim at this point in his career. Too often defenders are able to drive him off his line, and he does not have the counter moves to get by them. Smith shot 43.5 percent on two-pointers at Auburn, and a lot of that is credited to his struggles to finish at the rim. As a result, Smith often settles for mid-range jumpers once his drive is cut off.
The pieces are there for Smith to round out his offensive game. He needs to work on making better reads in the passing game. He has already shown some improvement in this area as the college season progressed. On drives, he needs to add some moves. Dribbling in a straight or arched line is not going to cut it in the NBA, it did not at Auburn. Improving his handle and adding some dribble moves should help a lot.
Smith is a great perimeter defender who lacks interior instincts
Auburn University forward Jabari Smith (10) looks to pass laying over University of Miami guard Kameron McGusty (23) during the first half of the NCAA Div. 1 Men’s Basketball Tournament preliminary round game. Sunday, March 20, 2022. (image credit: Ken Ruinard / USA TODAY Network / USA TODAY NETWORK)
It is safe to say Smith is in his element on the perimeter at both ends of the court. He has the lateral quickness to stay in front of wings. In the NBA, he should be able to guard wings and bigs. He has quick enough feet to not be completely exposed if he is switched onto a guard, but it is definitely not something you want him doing regularly.
On the perimeter, he closes out well and uses his 7-1 wingspan to make it difficult to get a shot off over him. Smith has active hands as well. He consistently works to poke the ball free and is not afraid to dive for a loose ball. He averaged 1.1 steals per game at Auburn.
It is hard to tell what Smith offers as a help-side defender or rim protector. He was not really asked to do much in that area. Walker Kessler dominated the paint defensively for Auburn. As a result, Smith did not have much responsibility defending the interior.
When he did defend the paint, Smith did not flash great shot-blocking instincts. He does not have the timing down to be an effective shot-blocker right now. He was also subject to some bullying in the post by stronger bigs. Adding weight to his frame should help him hold his ground in the post.
Smith has moments where he is a serviceable interior or help-side defender, but he is best utilized defending the perimeter.
His fit in Detroit
It is no secret that the Pistons need three-point shooting. Their 32.6 percent three-point shooting as a team ranked 29th in the NBA. They were 16th in attempts from beyond the arc, but only 26th in makes. Smith immediately helps remedy Detroit’s shooting woes. If Frank Jackson and Kelly Olynyk have bounceback years from outside and Isaiah Stewart is able to unlock his potential as a floor spacer, the Pistons could emerge as one of the league’s better teams from beyond the arc.
He will be effective on the defensive end as well. He should be able to guard most threes through fives. The fit with Stewart would be interesting. Smith would not offer much help-side defense early on in his career, so Stewart may be left on an island at times. But Smith’s perimeter defense should help Detroit be one of the better defending teams from beyond the arc.
The addition of Smith would signal the departure of Jerami Grant. Detroit can maximize on Grant’s trade value while it is still relatively high. A lottery pick in either this year’s draft or the next would be enticing.
Smith has room to grow, especially on the offensive end. In his first season, Smith will slot in as a three-and-D power forward for whatever team drafts him. If he can round out the rest of his game, dribble-drive moves, playmaking and interior defense, he could very well wind up the best player from this draft class.
(Featured Image Credit: Jake Crandall / USA TODAY NETWORK)