Rockets see Jabari Smith Jr. as ‘just scratching the surface’ of his potential

HOUSTON — The  Rockets resumed practice on Tuesday, preparing for their second preseason game on Friday versus Toronto. Assistant coach John Lucas II was called upon to lead practice after head coach Stephen Silas entered the NBA’s health and safety protocols following Sunday’s emphatic 134-96 victory over San Antonio.

Even though Silas’ voice wasn’t heard, the game plan he had been implementing since training camp was followed by Lucas and the rest of the coaching staff.

“Obviously we miss him because he’s our leader for what we do,” Lucas told reporters. “We just got through practice today, followed his game plan. Going to talk to him about what he wants us to do tomorrow. And we just keep building. We have a system in place, we have a good staff, and we just build with what we have.”

One of those building blocks is rookie Jabari Smith Jr., who the Rockets selected with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2022 NBA draft.

“He is just scratching the surface,” said Lucas about Smith’s first preseason game performance. “I think he has a chance to really be good, because one of the things he can do already is shoot and that helps our spacing on the floor, and he is an elite defender.”

Smith finished Sunday’s game with a game-high 21 points, but his 5-of-8 shooting (62.5%) from 3-point range particularly impressed the Rockets’ coaching staff.

“My teammates made it easy for me by finding me when I was open,” Smith told reporters after the game. “Coming into the game I was looser than in summer league. I didn’t have all the jitters, and my teammates helped me with that.”

Smith’s work ethic has been noticed by his teammates and Lucas, who raved about how much time the rookie puts into honing his craft. It was a trait that former coaches from Smith’s past raved about when talking about the 6-foot-11 forward out of Auburn University.

“In doing research on him before the draft and talking to his coaches, including his AAU coach, they all say the same thing, and that is he likes to work,” Lucas said.

If anyone knew just how much Smith takes pride in becoming one of the best players in the NBA, it would be Lucas, who has consistently worked with Smith on making his shot better since the summer.

“Jabari has really improved his shooting,” said Lucas, who would put Smith through drills at 6 a.m. during the summer. “He has gotten his feet under him and managed to do better. I watched him in summer league and thought that his shot was too slow, and he has really picked it up. But more importantly, Jabari knows how to play.”

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Story originally appeared on Rockets Wire