Rockets rookie Jabari Smith Jr. draws rave reviews for summer league defense

On a recent episode of the Game Theory podcast, The Athletic’s NBA draft guru, Sam Vecenie, shared a glowing review of Jabari Smith Jr.’s defensive contributions at summer league for the Houston Rockets.

As part of the episode, Vecenie and fellow draft analyst Adam Spinella ran down the summer contributions of each of the top prospects from the first round of the 2022 NBA draft. For the Rockets, this meant a focus on Smith, who was selected at No. 3 overall in the first round.

Here’s part of Vecenie and Spinella’s exchange regarding Smith and the Rockets, who went 2-3 over their five games in Las Vegas:

Vecenia: Jabari has been really great defensively. I mean, holy ****, defensively, has he been good. The switchability, the weak side rim protection, the rotations. But especially the switchability. Houston is just switching every action. He is just swallowing up every guard out there at summer league.

Spinella: He wants it. He wants that type of responsibility. Guys that think they were going No. 1 overall and then they slip a pick or two, there are a lot of different ways that you can handle that. For him, it’s not just going out there and being the offensive focal point. He wants to prove that he can guard. He wants to play on that end of the floor, and especially in those games when his shot isn’t falling, particularly.

That’s what has impressed me about Jabari. The offensive stuff, some questions. But the consistency on defense, regardless of what goes on on the other end of the floor, you rarely see that from a guy that has been as highly touted as he has over the last 10 to 12 months.

In five summer league games, Smith averaged 14.4 points (37.7% FG, 25.9% on 3-pointers), 9.4 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.6 steals, and 1.4 blocks in 29.7 minutes. The shooting percentages were low, but his college numbers at Auburn suggests that it’s likely an issue of sample size.

The upside for the Rockets is that Smith never let those shooting struggles influence his effort on the other end of the court.

The complete podcast episode can be listened to below, with the Smith discussing starting at approximately the 38:50 mark.

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