Jabari Smith Jr. open to playing more center for Rockets

The recent groin injury suffered by Alperen Sengun allowed rookie forward Jabari Smith Jr. to slide over to the role of starting center for the Rockets, with fellow rookie Tari Eason joining Houston’s starting lineup Monday in the vacated power forward spot.

The result? It wasn’t perfect. After all, at 6-foot-11 and 213 pounds, Smith is far lighter than most starting centers in the NBA. At times, he was pushed around. But Smith is also more athletic and a better shooter than many players at that position, and that offensive and defensive versatility was on full display during Houston’s upset victory over the Boston Celtics — one of the NBA’s best teams.

Just 19 years old, Smith finished with 24 points and 12 rebounds on better than 80% shooting, both overall and from 3-point range. For the No. 3 overall draft pick of the NBA’s 2022 first round, it was his third straight game with 20-plus points and 10-plus rebounds. Defensively, with Smith in the middle, the Rockets were effectively able to switch across the board on all picks set by the Celtics.

Many frontcourt players of Smith’s long, athletic build prefer to avoid the physical pounding that comes from playing at center. But when asked Monday about playing there, Smith told reporters that he’s open to it, and he thinks it could ultimately be to his advantage.

“I’ve just got to be a little bit more physical, with protecting the rim and doing different stuff,” Smith said (via Rockets Wire’s Brian Barefield). “As I get stronger, I feel like that’s where my advantage will be. That’s where I’ll be the biggest mismatch for other fives in the league. As I keep learning that position, I feel I can play that.”

For now, Smith will slide back to power forward as soon as Sengun is medically cleared to return. But in the years ahead, and particularly once Smith adds more strength, it could be a real option for the rebuilding Rockets to consider as they mull their future rosters.

Story continues

Sengun is listed as questionable for Houston’s next game, which comes Wednesday night at home versus the Los Angeles Lakers. If Sengun is…


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Author : Rockets Wire

Publish date : 2023-03-15 02:40:45

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