It soon becomes clear why the Orlando Magic are considering former Auburn forward Jabari Smith Jr. with the No. 1 overall pick in Thursday’s NBA draft.
Smith, former Duke forward Paul Banchero and Gonzaga man Chet Holmgren were among the three rookies expected to be the No. 1 overall pick since the end of the college basketball season.
But since the Magic won the draft lottery, there’s a reason rival executives and scouts believe the No. 1 pick will come down to two players — Holmgren and Smith. According to betonline.com, Smith has been considered the favorite since mid-May, and at one point was the favorite.
At 6-foot-10, 220 pounds, with a 7-foot-1 wingspan, Smith shot 42 percent from 3-point range (5.5 attempts), and his size, defensive versatility and shooting/scoring ability are rare.
On his way to being named the Southeastern Conference Rookie of the Year with the Tigers, he averaged 16.9 points (42 percent from 3-point range), 7.4 rebounds, 2 assists, 1.1 steals and 1 block per game and the third The second team is all-American.
Smith shoots in a variety of ways—spot-ups, turns, pick-and-rolls and pull-ups—without creating a significant advantage. His tenacity, awareness, speed and length have helped him become a high-level defender.
“I really like this young man,” Ryan Black, who has helped direct the NBA’s scouting service since 1996, said in a recent call with the Orlando Sentinel. “His offense is going to get better in the NBA. He has the confidence and maturity to play in Auburn’s system. You have a typical forward who can play both positions and be pretty much the Jayson Tatum type of player. … he’s a great shot-shooter [and] Soft touch. He is a versatile defender. He is intense. He is moving his feet. He was always looking around. He is also a leader. He’s always in the mix.
“[He] He has the drive, spirit and leadership you want as a player. “
Although Smith has the ideal skills and size for the modern NBA, he still has concerns on the court.
At times, he struggles as a ball handler to create separation and adapt to jumpers. He didn’t show advanced passing ability with the Tigers, but Blake didn’t express concern about Smith’s playmaking.
“He’s a great playmaker,” Black said. “He’s a risk-taking playmaker. When he gets into a new system and culture, those things blossom. Physically, he’s going to outperform and climb more than anyone else. He’s got that for me. A huge ceiling.”
Smith echoed Blake’s sentiments while speaking with reporters on June 9 after a pre-draft workout with the Magic at the AdventHealth practice facility inside the Amway Center.
“I’m going to be able to show my passing ability,” Smith said when asked if he’ll be able to show more of his skills in the NBA, “I’m going to be able to make the right game and not settle for a tough shot. My shot selection will improve a lot at the next level.”
Smith is an ideal fit for most teams, especially the Magic.
He said he plans to only play for the Magic and Oklahoma City Thunder, who have the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, suggesting he doesn’t expect to overtake the No. 2 pick.
Smith’s best offense — shooting — is an area the Magic need to improve after finishing the league’s third-worst 3-point percentage (33.1 percent). He will also help them become more complete defensively.
As Smith sees it, no other player in this draft is a better shooter and defender.
“I absolutely agree that I am the best combination [shooting and defense],” he said. “My will to win sets me apart. I don’t really care about stats or charisma. I just want to fight to win. “
Smith said it was this will to win that he wanted people to remember.
“I’m not worried about stats or honors or anything like that,” Smith said. “My main goal in life is to win an NBA championship. That’s what I want to do, no matter if I average 30 [points or] 10. Whatever the team needs me to do to affect the win, I will do it. “
This article first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Send Khobi prices to email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @khobi_price.