After ending up as a DNP-CD (did not play, coach’s decision) for the majority of his young career, he’s finally had an opportunity arise due to the depleted Phoenix Suns roster.
He’s certainly made the most of this chance, proving he at least belongs in the league. Whether that’s in Phoenix or for another franchise, he’s earned enough intrigue for a second contract.
The Suns have been down big men Deandre Ayton and JaVale McGee along with “big wing” Jae Crowder which has opened up the door for consistent minutes for the first time in Smith’s young career.
This offseason, Phoenix did something teams rarely do: declined a lottery pick’s 3rd-year option, which puts them in a very unique situation.
Last four games for Jalen Smith in Phoenix:— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) January 3, 2022
- 16 PPG
- 10.5 RPG
Because his 3rd year team option was declined, the most that Phoenix or an acquiring team can sign him for is $4.67M.
The first top 10 pick not to have his 3rd year option exercised since Joe Alexander (2009).
Jalen Smith — 6’10”, F/C, 21 years old
Season stats: 6.8 PPG — 4.9 RPG — 0.6 BPG on 50/15/87 shooting splits. 15 games played — 12.8 minutes per game.
Per-36 stats: 19.1 PPG — 13.7 RPG — 1.7 BPG — 0.7 SPG.
Given the production he’s put together in this stint, along with a few ferocious dunks... the intrigue is back. This dunk is impossible to not get excited about, no matter where you stand with Smith as a long-term fit.
JALEN SMITH, OH MY GOODNESS pic.twitter.com/CKoYOLGzfP— NBA (@NBA) January 3, 2022
In Jalen Smith’s career, he’s only received 20+ minutes six times. In those contests, he’s averaged 13.6 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 1.5 BPG on 51.6% FG. He’s scored in double figures in five of those six games in 27 minutes per game.
This is the tricky part. If you’re James Jones, on one hand, you took him 10th overall, which is quite the investment. On the other hand, you declined his 3rd-year option in unprecedented fashion, showing some form of immediate regret after just one season.
Now that he’s finally showing signs of life, this benefits his trade value without a doubt. The drawback, however, is that the Suns or whichever team acquires him in a hypothetical trade would only be able to offer him $4.67 million.
I’m not one to guess what Smith would make in the open market, but if I had to pin a price point based on age, potential, and intrigue, then I’d say Smith might be able to find a rebuilding team to top that number.
That makes trading for him risky, as teams will likely not view him as a guaranteed long-term option if they get outbid by a small amount.
I polled the great people of Suns Twitter to gather their thoughts on the situation.
Temperature check.— Zona (@ZonaHoops_) January 4, 2022
Given Jalen Smith's surge + unique contract situation, what should the Suns do with him?
While it seems as though the majority is still alright with trading him, if this same poll was made two weeks ago I can guarantee you it would be one of those 95-to-5 type results in favor of dealing him. Progress!
It feels like the Suns have dug themselves into a hole in this situation, and keeping him might be riskier than trading him at this point. You simply cannot lose a top-10 pick without getting any return after just two seasons.
That would be a disaster of asset management, and I think Jones realizes that which makes a trade more likely than not.
Let’s say they keep him. Where does he fit long-term? Phoenix is still going to be in win-now mode next season and has to make paying Cam Johnson and Deandre Ayton a priority this offseason. When you combine that with the fact that they declined his option, why would Smith himself want to come back?
Dario Saric will be healthy next season, and Jones will likely look to bring back at least one of McGee or Kaminsky, once again burying Smith on the bench given Crowder and Johnson see time at the four.
Last month, I outlined 7 Realistic Trades for the Phoenix Suns, and Jalen Smith appeared in all 7 of them.
While the improvement he’s shown is encouraging and I’m pleased with his development, it’s difficult to see him returning beyond this season. If the contract circumstances were different, the discussion would be a lot different, and I’d likely lobby to keep him around another year.
Dave King and I actually briefly discussed Jalen Smith’s situation in the latest Suns Solar Panel podcast, give it a listen for more.