Smith missed about one week in training camp and was limited to just one preseason game due to a sprained left ankle. He was eventually cleared to play and had appeared in the first nine games of the season prior to sitting out on Saturday due to an illness.
The 19-year-old had a bout with the flu that knocked him out of practice for much of the past week. He was a game-time decision on the road Monday versus the Orlando Magic but made enough progress to return to the starting lineup.
The supporting cast around Smith has helped him in the early going.
“It has been good. I’ve got people around me — coaches, everybody helping me learn the league, learn the system and get my rhythm,” Smith told Rookie Wire. “It has been fun. It has been a struggle to start but I wouldn’t want it no other way.”
The early difficulties may have affected his on-court performance.
Smith is mired in a bit of a shooting slump as of late with the Rockets. He is averaging 6.5 points and 4.7 rebounds on 24.5% shooting from the field over his last six games. Prior to that span, he was posting 15.3 points and seven rebounds on 35.7% shooting.
Fortunately, the early shooting woes are not uncommon for a first-year player. The team is going to work with him and try to get him into positions where he can succeed on the court and take high-percentage shots to break out of his cold spell.
Rockets head coach Stephen Silas revealed how the team can help him.
He is such a two-way player and having him concentrate more on the defensive end helps his offensive game where he is not putting so much pressure on his offensive games. He was struggling a little bit with his shot. He was getting relatively good shots, forcing it here and there just like every rookie but for him, it is really the defensive end with the offense that makes him a complete basketball player for us.
Smith established himself as perhaps the top shooter in the draft this year. He averaged 16.9 points, 7.4 rebounds, two assists, 1.1 steals and one block on 42% shooting from 3-point range. He set the Auburn single-season freshman record for points (576) and 3-pointers (79).
The early slump for Smith is likely a bit surprising considering how well he shot last season, but the All-American knows there is a simple solution to turn things around.
“Keep shooting,” Smith said. “Take better shots. Figure out my shot selection and know where my shots are going to come from and just figure out a rhythm. That’s it. That’s all it is.”
Jabari Smith Jr. sinks the three. More please. pic.twitter.com/ZuQ7LejQ95
— Jackson Gatlin (@JTGatlin) November 8, 2022
On the season, Smith is averaging 10 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game on 30% shooting from 3-point range. He is one of only five rookies to score 20 points in a game this season and currently ranks fifth in scoring and third in rebounding.
Smith showed prior to the slump why the Rockets took him third in the draft. He has emerged as a legitimate 3-and-D player given his ability to defend and shoot. He has rebounded at a high level and has brought energy and effort to seemingly every play.
We didn't get to see it much, since Eric Gordon was his primary matchup, but I thought Jabari Smith did quite well when matched up against Paul George.
He moved his feet, stayed infront, and used his length to contest. Pretty good stuff. Watch and decide for yourself: pic.twitter.com/1ZxmJimXvV
— Itamar (@Itamar_17_10) November 1, 2022
The Rockets are the second-youngest team in the NBA this season with an average age of 23.58. Smith was a key piece to a core that also features Jalen Green, Kevin Porter Jr., Alperen Sengun, KJ Martin and Josh Christopher among others.
With so many young players on the roster, the group has the opportunity to grow together on and off the court. The foundation appears to be there as the organization looks to build something special in Houston.
“We’re all learning together. We’re all growing together,” Smith said. “The whole team is young so we’re all just learning each other, learning the league and going through struggles together. We’re going to go through victories together so it is just staying together.”