“I Don’t Feel Like I’m In A Position To Just Sit Out” | Houston Rockets Second-Year Star Jabari Smith Jr. On Why He’s Playing In Summer League 

The young but talented Houston Rockers stumbled to a 22-60 record during the 2022-23 season. With that finish came the firing of head coach Stephen Silas, who was replaced by former Boston Celtics coach Ime Udoka. The hiring of the demanding Udoka, who’s known to challenge his team’s best players to bring it on both ends up the floor, was a signal for 2022 No. 3 overall pick Jabari Smith Jr. 

Known as a two-way stretch forward, Smith takes pride on the defensive end, and it showed in his defensive versatility during an at-times trying rookie year.

While Smith put up solid numbers of 12.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.0 blocks per game, he wasn’t happy with his efficiency of 40.8 percent shooting, 78.6 percent from the line and a paltry 30.1 percent from three. 

Smith Playing Summer League Again?

Instead of sitting out the Summer League, Smith decided he could use the work. He hopes to continue the upward climb of his final games of the season, where he averaged 15.8 points, 7.7 rebounds, 1.0 blocks while shooting 47.2 percent from the floor and 36.8 from three.

Smith’s willingness to play in Summer League evinces a humility not normally associated with a guy drafted as highly as he was last year. It’s extremely rare to see a top-three pick from the previous season participate in Summer League, but Smith has a couple of good reasons why he’s doing so. 

Following his buzzer-beating three-pointer for the Rockets on Friday, which capped a 33-point night, an elated Smith told reporters this:

I’m 20 years old. Why wouldn’t I play in the Summer League? We were 22-60 last year. I don’t feel like I’m in a position to just sit out.

My rookie year wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t great. So why not get out here and get reps and play with refs and play with my new teammates and my new coaches, and just get a feel? I feel like any second-year guy should feel open to play, just because of the opportunity. 

You get to play in front of the refs, you get to play in front of the crowd, you get to play a real basketball game against NBA players. You usually don’t get that in the summer, so just take advantage of it.

Smith Jr., followed up Friday’s performance with an even bigger one on Sunday, as he went for 38 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists, showing off the versatility that made him a highly-coveted prospect out of high school.

Smith Isn’t Only Top-Three Pick From 2022 Class Participating In Summer League

With 2022 No. 1 overall pick Paolo Banchero winning NBA Rookie of the Year, there was absolutely no way he’d be taking the floor in Las Vegas this time around. But the No. 2 pick from that draft, Chet Holmgren, who missed all of 2022-23 with an injury, is hopping in Vegas. 

After playing three games in the Salt Lake City Summer League, including a 15-point, nine-rebound, four blocks outing, Holmgren was once again good in Saturday’s Vegas Summer League debut, scoring 16 points and securing 10 rebounds in a 91-80 win over the Dallas Mavericks. 

Only Holmgren can be up for ROY honors of the two, but Smith is hoping to see the much-improved-on-paper Rockets show it on the court.

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