Jalen Smith, PF/C, Maryland
Age: 20 (3/16/2000)
Jalen Smith College Stats
Jalen Smith led Maryland by corralling 10.5 rebounds per game his sophomore campaign. This more than doubled Aaron Wiggins’ second-best 4.9 boards. While Smith contributed on the glass on both ends, it was his 3.2 offensive rebounds that stood out. He’s a big time put-back threat and showed good anticipation on when to take off if there’s a rebound available. Combining his length and bounce often created easier finishing opportunities on the offensive boards.
Jalen has solid verticality and explosiveness under the basket, but he’s not elite in that area. It’s his speed in the open court that separates him from most bigs. He moves much more like a forward than a center and this even remains true when he’s handling the ball. He routinely out-ran the opposing teams forwards and centers in transition for pressure-free finishes.
The area Smith excels in the most defensively is weak-side rim protection. He’s able to stay vertical and block shots at a good rate without getting into foul trouble. His feel and reactions on when to help or rotate down low often puts him in great positions to make a play. As for the rest of his defensive game; Smith can get overpowered in the post a bit too easily, while his footwork and stance on the perimeter are inconsistent at best. Despite moving well laterally, he was fairly frequently blown by on closeouts attempts. If he can polish up the fundamentals and bulk up a bit, Jalen has all the physical ability to defend the perimeter decently while also holding his own down low.
36.8% from three on 2.8 attempts per game this past season doesn’t tell the full story on Jalen’s jumper. He looked comfortable in limited attempts shooting off-the-dribble and even spotting up off screens. Maryland was confident enough in his shooting ability that they ran some sets aimed to get him perimeter shots; that’s not common for a center. Smith took advantage of these opportunities by having the highest three-point percentage of anyone in the Terrapin’s regular rotation. The only possible concern is that his release is a bit low, but at 6’10” this should rarely be an issue.
Less than 1 assist per game is fairly alarming for the Maryland alum. Add in his career average of 1.5 turnovers and it’s clear Jalen has difficulties setting up his teammates. He can be a bit careless and lazy when passing the ball. As I mentioned earlier, Smith was the most efficient three-point shooter on the season. His teammates inability to more consistently make jumpers certainly didn’t help Jalen’s assists totals, but he wasn’t exactly creating easier shots for anyone else either.
On the bright side, he does look comfortable handling the ball for a big. If he can make strides on his passing, then Smith’s overall playmaking could quickly transition from a weakness to a strength.
At 225 pounds, the former Terrapin is going to struggle with NBA size the same way he did against the larger centers of the NCAA. His lack of strength is the most apparent in his lower body. With stronger legs and core muscles Jalen Smith would have an easier time keeping his balance and fighting for rebound positioning under the basket. He did most of his damage on the boards by combining his superior athleticism with hustle. The NBA, however, is a different animal and that likely won’t be enough to continue being a positive rebounder. If done right, Jalen can put on some weight without sacrificing his speed and potentially make himself even more explosive under the hoop.
Smith actually does have pretty good touch around the rim, but still struggled at turning post-ups into points. He wasn’t able to back many defenders down or trick them with moves. A large portion of his post possessions were tough, awkward looking shot attempts. This concern is mitigated by his projected role in the association. NBA coaches should know Jalen will be better utilized in the dunkers spot and as a pick-n-pop threat. The jump in talent around Smith should allow him to play to his strengths in a lower usage role early in his professional career.
Projected Draft Range: Mid first
Denver Stiffs Big Board: 20th overall
NBA Comparison: Serge Ibaka/Christian Wood
Fit with the Nuggets
Why Smith makes sense for Denver
As we approach the draft, the Nuggets front court is thin on paper. Nikola Jokic, Bol Bol, and Vlatko Cancar are the only bigs currently under contract for the 2020-2021 season. Even if Jerami Grant is re-signed and Michael Porter Jr. plays more power forward next year, they likely don’t help fill the backup center role. Many consider Bol Bol a very tall forward and if the Nuggets feel the same way then another center will be needed.
Enter Jalen Smith, who can provide instant shot blocking, rebounding and floor spacing off the bench. His size and athleticism afford him the versatility to play at power forward or center, filling in nicely wherever he’s needed.
Why Smith doesn’t make sense for Denver
The Nuggets already have multiple front court options that have strength issues and fall under a similar archetype as Jalen. Bol Bol and MPJ are both lethal shooters that have length to protect the rim. If they added another player in that mold it may be at the expense of versatility throughout their front court. Given the matchup-driven nature of most playoff series, it may be vital to have players with varying strengths to limit potential mismatches.
Jalen Smith has some NBA-ready attributes. His athleticism, weak side shot blocking and shooting all project to translate to the league in varying degrees. If he can develop into a more complete player he should have a long career.
Very few mocks drafts have Smith falling past the late teens, but that is far from an unprecedented slip if he was still available with the Nuggets 22nd overall pick. As with every draft pick, there are some concerns, but I believe Jalen Smith could be at the top of Tim Connelly’s big board if he hasn’t been selected when the Nuggets are on the clock.
How you feel if the Nuggets drafted Jalen Smith?
This poll is closed
Ecstatic - He would be a steal at 22nd overall
Good - His skill set fits what they need
Fine - There might be better options available
Horrible - Smith will be a bust