Babcock Hoops’ video scout Derek Murray breaks down NBA prospect Jalen Smith of the Maryland Terrapins.
Position: PF/C | Height: 6’10” | Weight: 225 | College: Maryland | Class: Sophomore
Activity on the Glass
Finishing in Traffic
Athleticism and Flexibility
Lower Body Strength
Jalen Smith is one of the most intriguing prospects in the 2020 class, in large part due to his offensive versatility. He can certainly score effectively inside around the hoop, but his greatest value comes from his ability to shoot the ball from outside.
At 6’10” with a high release point, smooth mechanics, and the ability to shoot off movement, Jalen Smith shot 36.8% from the three-point line on 2.8 attempts per game this past season. And despite already proving to be a capable shooter, I think what he has shown so far is just a glimpse as to what he can become. With any additional consistency, his capability as a stretch big leads me to believe that he possesses both a high floor and ceiling offensively.
Smith’s role at the NBA level will likely be as a floor spacer. He’s fluid in space and was used at Maryland off of various movements including curls, pin downs, and dribble handoffs. While his ball-handling isn’t great, it’s good enough to attack closeouts occasionally and score off the dribble as well. I don’t foresee him being a creator or initiator of any kind, but he also won’t be trapped off the catch if the defender pushes up on him.
The lack of lower body strength makes it difficult for Smith to carve out space and back defenders into a deep post position, limiting his effectiveness as a low post scorer. However, he does score the ball well around the basket on non-post ups. Smith shot an impressive 72.7% at the rim in the 2019-20 season. He was also effective as a finisher on the move and in transition. He has terrific body control and coordination for a player his size, which allows him to overcome his lack of overall physical strength. Smith ranks in the 99th percentile as a transition scorer, hitting 24 of his 29 field goal attempts. Rim running is an extremely valuable tool for bigs in today’s NBA, and Smith does it at a high level. While he doesn’t have elite speed, his long strides cover ground, as he can move with guards up and down the floor. When a path to the rim isn’t open in transition, he’s always a threat to knock down a three as a trailer as well.
At the NBA level, I anticipate coaches using him as a pick and roll scorer more than anything. Mismatches will be there, depending on the type of defender used on him; as the roll man, he’ll be a strong lob target with excellent hand-eye coordination and verticality. When used in pop actions rather than rolling, he projects as a decent three-point shooter should he be given any space. This is an example of his versatility that has his draft stock soaring.
On the defensive end, Jalen Smith is primarily a rim protector, blocking 73 shots this season. Due to his unique frame, a strong and powerful upper body, and a weak core and lower body, opposing bigs are able to dislodge him from the block because of his high center of gravity. However, he does recover and create leverage in order to contest shots. He’s also able to absorb contact well, even when being knocked off of his spot.
Smith doesn’t have elite length, but he utilizes his 7’1” wingspan and demonstrates great timing, making him one of the best shot blockers in the 2020 class. He has a high IQ as a help defender and often makes the correct decision regarding rotations. Smith is reliable off the ball defensively when it comes to tagging cutters and denying passing lanes, but trouble comes when Smith’s man runs off of screens. Screens tend to bury him due to his inability to bend, dip, or move laterally in tight spaces, so at the next level defending stretch 4s and 5s could become problematic.
I worry about his switchability at the next level, likely defending only 4s and 5s regularly. When isolated, his stiff hips have him standing upright, and once the initiator starts a dribble move, Smith tends to get on his heels rather quickly. I envision NBA guards and wings attacking him regularly until he shows that he can make stops consistently. What he does have going for him is that he’s smart in his recovery, anticipating the shot and drive while still managing to contest with his length.
His pick-and-roll defense is a concern due to the lack of speed and change of direction. In drop coverage he does a poor job of tagging the ball handler, is often on his heels, and cannot recover quickly to contest the jump shot. When pulled to the perimeter or sliding to defend the pick-and-pop, his lack of explosion delays his ability to contest.
Smith is a strong rebounder, averaging over ten per game, and is an incredible rim protector. He’s shown strong awareness and reaction time, so my concerns are impacted more so by his physique and speed, rather than his mental makeup or decision making. Even with these limitations in mind, Smith posted a rebound percentage of 25.6 and a block percentage of 8.2, providing encouragement that he can contribute at the next level.
Stretch bigs come at a premium. Not every free agent or draft class has a good one, so when front offices are able to grab one on a rookie scale contract that can also provide some rim protection, you do it.
If he is able to improve his core and lower body strength, he’ll be able to battle in the paint and fortify himself as a legitimate rim protector in the NBA. His perimeter defense is cause for concern on multiple levels, but there’s something about a 6’10” athlete who excels as a floor spacer that makes him so desirable. Only two players since 2008 have had a block percentage greater than 8, free throw rate greater than 45, and converted over 30 three-point attempts: Jaren Jackson Jr. and Jalen Smith.
Smith has the tools to one day be a solid rotation piece, and possibly become a starter for an NBA franchise. I believe in Jalen’s ability to contribute offensively at the NBA level and would be comfortable with the idea of him being selected in the mid-late first round of the 2020 NBA Draft.