For as much tanking and general thirst that the top three picks of the 2022 NBA Draft garnered, they haven’t merited that attention quite yet. In Chet Holmgren’s case, it’s impossible because he’s out for the season. Paolo Banchero is going to win Rookie of the Year, and little else on an Orlando Magic team that’s 2-9, but, hey, 23/8/3 in your debut season ain’t bad.
The Houston Rockets have the same record as the Magic and are playing a similar brand of developmental basketball. However, Jabari Smith Jr., their top three pick who I regrettably would’ve picked first overall, has yet to top the 20-point mark in any outing. It’s early, and he missed time recently due to the flu, but scoring 10 points on as many shots per game on 30 percent shooting while getting 30 minutes of run per night is alarming.
If any skill was supposed to translate from his lone/incredible year as an Auburn Tiger, it was his shooting. Smith made 42 percent of his five-plus 3 attempts while nabbing seven boards a night, and playing good to great defense. When you watched Auburn though, it felt like Smith had to rip the ball out of his inefficient, shot-happy guards’ hands to get a touch.
He probably still has PTSD from watching K.D. Johnson and Wendell Green jack up a combined 21 shots per contest while hitting just 37 percent of them. Fellow Tiger front-court mate Walker Kessler, who’s currently a cog of the upstart Utah Jazz’s success, had a 60 percent clip from the field, and he couldn’t get more than eight looks per game.
After Smith fell to the Rockets with the third pick, the “If he thought his guards hogged the ball too much in Montgomery, wait until he gets a load of Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr.” joke was a cliche on NBA Twitter. I laughed the first time, and maybe the second, but stopped after that because do people really not know that the exact same scenario awaited him in Houston? And how depressing that is?
The Rockets’ young backcourt upchucks a staggering 34 shots combined between the two of them. That’s two fewer than notable/good guard combos like the Splash Brothers, Damian Lillard, and Anfernee Simons, or Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland. I’ll let you guess which backcourt is hitting a measly 40 percent of their field goals while doling out the least amount of assists of those four duos.
I think I shouldn’t have to spell it out, but I will to avoid any confusion: It’s Green and Porter. I was being kind when I described Houston’s current style of play as developmental. That’s a nice way of saying shitty, and, honestly, they’re not developing anything other than bad habits and a sense of frustration for Smith.
The Rockets are bottom four in the league in point differential, and of their nine losses, only one game was within a score, with five Ls by double digits. Smith has one game over 50 percent from the floor, and his looks have consistently decreased as the year has progressed.
Yes, some of the poor numbers are due to illness. That said, the NBA was supposed to be better suited to his skill set. A 6-foot-10 power forward with a stroke lifted out of a shooting clinic should pop off the screen when you turn on a Houston game, and not go unnoticed for long stretches.
If you want to sell me on Green’s potential, that’s fine. He also was a high pick and showed real flashes a year ago. I’m less worried about Porter or Alperen Şengün maximizing their talent. Şengün is nice but shouldn’t be as big of a priority as the team’s 2022 draft prize.
I feel bad for coach Stephen Silas. He appears to have less control over his group than Bruce Pearl did last year at Auburn. Be that as it may, someone has to stop practice, or a game, and reiterate that Smith is a member of the team.
If not that, bring in a traditional point guard so Jabari can at least understand what that position is supposed to do for him.