Jabari Smith Jr. is on the cusp of making his lifelong dream come true.
On Thursday, Smith is poised to walk across the stage and shake NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s hand at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn once he’s selected by either the Orlando Magic or Oklahoma City Thunder.
According to The Athletic’s Shams Charania, all indications are that Smith is a lock to be selected No. 1 or No. 2 overall. And heading into the pre-draft process, Smith kept his workouts and visits with interested organizations to a minimum. Smith’s self-confidence, plus his dominant freshman campaign at Auburn, made him comfortable enough to only interact with the Magic and Thunder.
“I don’t see myself falling below No. 2,” Smith said. “That was my mindset going into it. That’s why I kept it to those two.”
Smith exploded onto the national scene this season for Auburn, averaging 16.9 points, 7.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.0 block per game on an excellent 57.0% True Shooting.
The way the 19-year-old fits within the modern NBA is an easy sell:
At 6-foot-10, Jabari Smith has the size and shooting stroke to be an impactful stretch-4 at the NBA level. Additional physical strength will propel his development, but his athleticism, shooting and defensive abilities make him a high-level prospect. In addition, considering the value of floor spacing in today’s game, Smith has become perhaps the hottest commodity in the 2022 NBA Draft.
Smith’s pre-draft interactions with Orlando and Oklahoma City were extensive. Projected to go to the Magic in our latest mock draft, Smith went through a private workout in Orlando earlier this month. Already a team with such an enticing young core, Smith could easily become the crown jewel to their extensive rebuild attempt.
“I think I can fit in really well,” Smith said following his pre-draft workout in Orlando. “Just seeing the guys and seeing the players, this is a young team, one of the youngest in the league. So adding me would just be adding another young player who’s hungry and got a lot left in the tank. I’ll add some energy and just the type of person who wants to come in and work and just get this organization where it needs to be.”
From June 12 to June 15, Smith also spent three days in Oklahoma City with the Thunder brass. Smith’s trek to OKC included a 1-on-0 workout where the Thunder wanted to see his strengths and also other potential growth areas.
“Just putting me in different scenarios,” Smith said. “Testing my conditioning, of course. Just trying to show them what they already know — my ability to knock down shots and my ability to space. They wanted me to showcase that I can attack closeouts and play off the ball, so that’s what I was trying to show and that’s what they kinda put me through.”
If the Magic go in the direction of Gonzaga big man Chet Holmgren or Duke's Paolo Banchero over Smith at No. 1 overall, the Auburn forward would slide into another ideal situation in Oklahoma City. Smith knows his addition alongside the dynamic young backcourt of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey would help build out general manager Sam Presti’s extensive puzzle even further.
“I think I fit great with Josh Giddey and Shai [Gilgeous-Alexander] with those two guards that just get in the paint and that can really pass and find shooters,” Smith said. “Me being a shooter, I feel I would fit great in that system, and just that long type of lineup they got going on and Sam Presti’s vision. I think I fit great.”
The wait won’t be long at all for Smith on Thursday night. Whether he ends up with the Magic or Thunder is still up in the air at the moment, but either organization will be landing a likely franchise-changing prospect atop this year’s draft class.