In 2020, Smith was drafted No. 10 overall by the Phoenix Suns,
who had just acquired future Hall-of-Fame point guard Chris Paul
days earlier. With Phoenix focused on contending, Smith’s
development was placed on the back-burner.
Smith experienced immediate team success, witnessing an NBA
Finals run as a rookie. However, his involvement was limited, as he
played a total of 17 minutes during that postseason. Eventually,
the Suns made the stunning decision to decline Smith's third-year
team option, even though he hadn't been given many chances to
showcase his skill set and prove he belonged in the league.
It was clear that the 22-year-old wasn't part of the Suns'
long-term plan, so it was no surprise when Phoenix dealt him to the
Indiana Pacers for veteran wing Torrey Craig in February. Phoenix
even attached their 2022 second-round pick to Smith’s expiring
contract in the deal.
The Pacers' front office and coaching staff made it a priority
to ensure that Smith felt welcomed, and he felt an instant
connection to the organization upon his arrival. The change of
scenery was the best thing that could've happened to Smith, who
made the most of his increased playing time.
After the trade, Smith averaged 13.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.4
threes, 1.0 block and 0.4 steals in 24.7 minutes. He scored in
double figures in 18 of his 22 games with the Pacers, playing the
best basketball of his career right before hitting free agency.
The Pacers re-signed Smith on a two-year, $9.7 million deal this
week. A league source confirmed to Basketball News that Smith’s new
deal doesn’t include a player option after next season, meaning the
Pacers will get to keep the lottery talent for multiple
On Wednesday, the Pacers hosted a re-introductory press
conference for Smith and he officially signed his new contract.
Even though Smith received significant offers from other teams, he
didn't want to pass up the opportunity for long-term growth in
“At the end of the day, it wasn’t about money,” Smith said.
“Choosing my future over instant gratification was the main focus,
and I feel as though I made the best decision possible. This is
somewhere I can grow, somewhere I know the system, somewhere I know
the coaches and the surrounding areas around here. I feel as though
that’s what’s going to help build towards that end goal.”
At the start of the press conference, Pacers head coach Rick
Carlisle announced that Smith will be Indiana’s starting power
forward moving forward. While he has limited experience as an NBA
starter (with just 17 starts under his belt), Smith has
consistently flashed when given heavy minutes. In eight starts last
season, Smith averaged 14.6 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.0 block in
just 24.3 minutes — while shooting a remarkably efficient 45.5%
from three-point range.
Even though Smith was seen as a “reach” on draft night when he
was selected at No. 10 overall, there’s no denying his two-way
talent. With his ability to space the floor and provide flashes of
above-average defense at the rim, he's a perfect fit for the modern
NBA and the Pacers are thrilled to watch him develop alongside
their young core.
“I’m having a hard time not being giddy because today is a
fantastic day for the organization...” Pacers president of
basketball operations Kevin Pritchard said. "When we made the trade
not too long ago, we were super excited. We just didn’t know how
good this guy was. The sky is the limit, so [we're] super
Indiana’s new timeline is centered around point guard Tyrese
Haliburton, who was acquired from the Sacramento Kings around the
same time that Smith joined the team. Right away, it was clear that
Haliburton and Smith had on-court synergy, which led to some fun
moments between the inside-out duo. Carlisle noted that
Haliburton’s presence makes a world of difference for players like
“I think it’s important to point out that having Tyrese
Haliburton here is another reason he played so well down the
stretch of the season,” Carlisle said. “And having Haliburton,
[T.J.] McConnell and now [Andrew] Nembhard, we have three really
tremendous facilitating, pass-first point guards that I think
probably weighed a little bit into Jalen’s long-term thinking. He’s
going to be playing with some guys that can get him the ball in the
right places offensively. Again, the trade for Tyrese, this is
another trickle down of that.”
As the Pacers embark on their first major rebuild in over 30
years, their front office has assembled an intriguing young core
that features Haliburton, Smith, Bennedict Mathurin, Isaiah
Jackson, Chris Duarte, Kendall Brown and Oshae Brissett among
others. Entering his third NBA season (and his first as a full-time
starter), Smith has an opportunity to solidify himself as a
building block in Indiana.
“It’s not going to change my work ethic,” Smith said. “My work
has always been hard, it’s just how I’ve been raised. My father, my
mom always told me if I’m going to do something, do it to the
fullest. Obviously coming into a starting role is a huge
responsibility, a lot more responsibility, but I’ve been taught
responsibility my whole life.”
Indiana stumbled into a gem with Smith, and they found a way to
keep the big man around for multiple years. This deal seems like a
perfect fit for both sides given where they're at, with Smith
checking all of the boxes for the Pacers and vice versa.
“The second the draft was over, Coach and I and Chad Buchanan,
the management staff and the coaches, were like, ‘How do we keep
Jalen in a Pacer uniform?’ It became this team effort. We just knew
that he was priority No. 1,” Pritchard said. “This was somebody we
wanted badly. As you build a team, you want to get players in the
right position. You went them sorta on the same timeline and you
just want to let them grow. We’re in this great position now. It’s
about growth and development. He is right at that curve, and I
think his game will really take a notch up, and I think he’s got as
much growth as anybody. So, we’re excited and thankful more than
All of a sudden, the pieces are falling into place for the
Pacers. After stagnating and getting eliminated in the first round
year after year, a rebuild was long overdue. Now, the Pacers
currently have 13 players who are age-25 or under, all of whom are
on the same timeline moving forward.
This season, Smith will have an opportunity to establish himself
as a long-term fixture for the Pacers and develop alongside the
rest of the team's promising core. All Smith needed was an
opportunity, and he happened to land in the ideal situation for his