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2020 NBA Draft Player Profile: Jalen Smith, Maryland

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6’10” big with a rare combo of perimeter shooting + rim protection

NCAA Basketball: Michigan State at Maryland
Maryland big man Jalen Smith
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Jalen Smith’s combination of size, rim protection, and perimeter shooting make him a unique and intriguing prospect. Smith led his team in 3pt% among qualified players, and was the only player on his team to shoot better than 33.3% from deep (min. 10 attempts). As a team, Maryland shot just 31.1% from deep (ranked 290th in college basketball), which makes his near-37% mark all the more impressive.

After a somewhat slow start to his sophomore season, from January 1st through the end of the covid-shortened college season, Smith posted per-game averages of 17.2 points and 10.8 rebounds (the rest of his stats remained mostly steady) on 56.6/40.1/75 shooting splits, scoring at least 18 points in 9 of the team’s 18 games, and scoring at least 11 points in every game but one. With a good showing in March Madness, it’s likely he could have catapulted himself into the lottery discussion. Right now, he’s projected as a mid to late 1st round pick.

Player stats/profile:

Per game: 15.5 points, 10.3 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.7 steals, 2.4 blocks, 1.7 turnovers, 53.8/36.8/75 shooting splits

Advanced: 62.6% True Shooting, 12 box plus-minus (7.7 offensive, 4.3 defensive), .249 win shares per 40, 18.6 total rebound percentage (25.6 defensive, 11.5 offensive), 8.2 block percentage

Physical: 20 years old (turns 21 next March), 6’10”, 225 pounds, with a 7’1” wingspan

Strengths

Athleticism, rim protection, weakside help defense, elite shot-blocking, excellent rebounding numbers on both ends, fantastic perimeter shooting for his size/position. Effective in both pick and pop and pick and roll situations – Smith was consistently able to find the soft spot in the defense and get himself open for 3 point shots or dunks and layups. Shows ability to attack closeouts off the dribble. Advanced stats darling – metrics love him as a prospect. High floor as a player – at worst he’s a bench 3 and D big that can stretch the floor and give you solid minutes every night while maintaining the team’s defensive identity.

Take a look at the play below. Smith slides across the paint to protect the rim on the drive, blocks the shot, tips the ball towards a teammate with his off hand, then races down the court in transition to clean up the offensive glass with a putback. Beautiful.

Weaknesses

His biggest weakness on offense is a lack of passing vision/ability. He’s also a bit stiff in the hips when defending the perimeter, and his defensive stance is high, which allows quicker offensive players to get dribble penetration. He doesn’t consistently set solid screens and could use some coaching in that area to improve his fundamentals and timing. Smith’s lateral quickness likely isn’t good enough to switch reliably (yet) on defense (although he showed flashes in this department). Strength will be an issue against bigger and stronger NBA big men, and his thin frame will limit how much muscle and power he can add at the next level.

Fit with Jazz?

YES. The Jazz need plus defenders who can stretch the defense and open up the floor for Donovan Mitchell. Smith gives you both of those things and then some.

Why Utah drafts him: He’s a 3-and-D stretch big with good height and a decent wingspan. The Jazz need more size, length, athleticism, and defense, and he emphatically checks all of those boxes. Smith has a lot of tools and physical ability at his disposal, and he’s oozing with potential. His freshman to sophomore jump was significant, improving his numbers across the board in every statistical category, which indicates that he has the kind of work ethic and dedication to his craft that the Jazz value in a player.

Why Utah doesn’t draft him: Utah’s offense is at its best when all 5 players on the court can move the ball around and get “the blender” going. Smith doesn’t yet have the vision or passing ability to fit into that Euro-style blender system. He also lacks the strength to guard centers at the NBA level, and currently lacks the lateral quickness and defensive footwork/fundamentals to effectively switch onto wings, making him (currently) a one-position defender.

Player floor: discount Serge Ibaka

Player ceiling: rim-protecting Robert Covington (extremely dependent upon improved footwork and defensive fundamentals on the perimeter before his defensive versatility is anywhere near RoCo’s level, but the tools and potential are there).

Jalen Smith has plenty of physical tools at his disposal, and with his work ethic plus Utah’s coaching and player development, he could turn into an incredibly effective and efficient player in the Jazz system. A few minor tweaks are needed to address his weaknesses (namely, perimeter defense, passing, and screen-setting), but he’s already got a long list of strengths for a player his age. It’s hard to do much better than that with a late 1st round pick.