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Suns Player Previews: Can Jalen Smith step up?

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Phoenix Suns 2021-22 Player Preview series continues with Jalen Smith

2021 Las Vegas Summer League - Phoenix Suns v Denver Nuggets Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

Welcome to the 2021-22 Phoenix Suns Season Preview series, starting with individual PLAYER PREVIEWS. We go through the roster, recapping last year and analyzing how they can help the Suns in their upcoming championship push.

The emphasis is different this year. We are no longer laser-focused on the highest upside, or praying for highlight endorphin spikes. Instead, we are looking to how this almost-the-same roster will perform a year older, a year wiser, a year more physically mature.

Let’s continue working our way through the roster.

Jalen Smith

Forward/Center, 6’10” tall, 240 pounds, 21 years old

Recap

He appeared in only 27 games (out of 72 possible) as a rookie on a great team contending for a championship all year long. And when he did play, it was garbage time. He only got about 5 minutes on the court in a stint, made only 4 threes, 5 free throws and 5 blocks all season long.

He finally got his chance in Vegas Summer League, leading the tourney in rebounds and made the First-Team All-Vegas tournament team.

Here’s one of his best games.

  • Overall grade as an NBA player: F
  • Relative grade to preseason expectations: D

Contract details

Jalen is on a rookie-scale contract, scheduled to make $4.44 million this year and $4.67 million next year with a team option the year after that.


Weaknesses

Smith is nicknamed ‘Stix’ for a good reason — he’s very high-centered with skinny legs for ballast. That translates into herky-jerky motions and long strides, limiting his ability to slide left and right on perimeter defense.

And even though he tells us he’s 240 pounds now, little of that is in his legs or butt, limiting his ability to hold his ground on post defense.

On offense, he’s active but cannot yet absorb contact enough to finish around the rim in traffic, leading to his 36% field goal in Summer League on two-pointers, most of which were in the paint. Also, he’s very right-hand dominant, which makes it easier to force him into a tougher shot than he wants to take.

Strengths

Smith’s strengths are clear and just might get him a rotation spot for years to come anyway.

Shooting: Stix has a clean jump shot with a quick, high release. If you like how Jae Crowder gets off a quick shot, you’ll like Smith’s shot too. He showed no fear in SL, leading all big men in three-point shot attempts (7 per game, making 36% which is league-average).

Rebounding: Stix inhales rebounds, even when he’s got another big man next to him. He lead the SL in rebounds (12.5 per game) including 5 per game on the offensive end. He’s got a nose for the ball and long arms (7’1” wingspan), which will help tremendously in the NBA.

Ball handling: he’s actually not afraid to put the ball on the floor and drive into better shooting position, or pass it off.

Effort: Every single play, Stix is on the move trying to do the right thing.

To remember what the Suns drafted 10th overall, here’s a highlight set from college.


ONE KEY FACTOR

If Smith can clean up his field goal percentage around the rim, he could be a good contributor in 2021-22. The Suns need someone who can rebound next to/behind Ayton that can also make threes. We just need that person to be a threat near the rim who can finish what he starts.


Prediction Time

I have no idea. Smith is on the trading block for a veteran, but might end up staying in Phoenix with the hope of fulfilling his promise. Problem is, the Suns can’t afford to let him fail forward like earlier prospects so he’s unlikely to get real minutes when every game matters.

I wish I could make a prediction beyond ‘he probably won’t see any significant time in the Suns rotation this year.


How about you, Suns fans? What do you think he will do this year?