Pick grades, reaction: Rockets draft Auburn’s Jabari Smith at No. 3

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In a draft night stunner, the Rockets picked Auburn forward Jabari Smith at No. 3 overall in the first round of Thursday’s 2022 NBA draft. The 19-year-old immediately joins last year’s No. 2 pick, Jalen Green, as the foundational pieces of Houston’s rebuild.

Smith had been widely expected to go No. 1 overall, but Orlando shocked the NBA world by selecting Duke’s Paolo Banchero, instead. Oklahoma City stayed with Gonzaga big man Chet Holmgren, as expected, leaving Smith for the Rockets and general manager Rafael Stone.

In one season with the Tigers, Smith averaged 16.9 points and 7.4 rebounds in 28.8 minutes, shooting 42.0% on 3-pointers. The 6-foot-10, 220-pound forward is considered an elite shooter with potential to be a two-way force in the NBA, given his athletic gifts and versatility.

As the roster currently stands, Smith will likely slide in as a starter at forward in Houston’s starting lineup for next season. Other presumed starters for the Rockets include Green, Kevin Porter Jr., Eric Gordon, and Alperen Sengun — who will start next to Smith as part of a revamped frontcourt (enabled by the recent trade of Christian Wood to Dallas).

Scroll on for analysis, our immediate pick grade, and reaction from media and fans who closely follow the Rockets or the draft.

Related

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Tilman Fertitta stresses longer-term perspective, draft emphasis with Rockets rebuild

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Jabari Smith prospect analysis

From Jonathan Givony’s final mock draft at ESPN:

Every NBA team we talked to on draft week expected Smith to be the No. 1 pick, a status that changed just before the start of the event. Smith’s only workouts were for the Magic and Thunder, but we now expect him to land in Houston. He’s arguably the best shooter in the draft despite standing 6-foot-10 and is more than a full year younger than Holmgren, the No. 1 prospect on the ESPN Big Board. The intensity level and versatility Smith brings defensively will be attractive in Houston, along with the fact that he checks every box that NBA teams look for from a character and competitiveness standpoint.

Grading the pick

RocketsWire pick grade: A

It’s pretty simple. When the Rockets were fortunate enough to land at No. 3 in the 2022 draft lottery, the only remaining priority was taking one of the three star frontcourt prospects in this year’s draft. In Smith, they get an elite shooter and potentially a dynamic and versatile defender to pair with Jalen Green as foundational pieces of Houston’s rebuild. His relative “weakness” of shot creation may not be as meaningful on a team with Green, Sengun, and Porter Jr., and his shooting and defense fill a clear deficiency with the current roster.

As long as the Rockets didn’t trade down in the draft order, surrender a lot additional assets to move up, or throw a curveball by selecting someone outside of the consensus top three, they were going to win in the short-term by selecting whichever top frontcourt talent was left on the board. General manager Rafael Stone understood the assignment.

Whether this pick is an “A” in the long-term remains to be seen. There is much work ahead to develop Smith in the right way and mold him with the rest of Houston’s young core. But as of today, it’s a win.

Reaction from media and fans

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