Maryland forward Jalen Smith is raw and athletic with speed and a jump shot. Let’s dive into whether he’s right for the Knicks or not at the draft.

If the New York Knicks are going to start drafting successfully, hitting on early picks is of the utmost importance. However, it’s also necessary that the Knicks take advantage of their late picks, whether it be additional first-round picks or second-round picks. 

Take a look at the reigning NBA champion Toronto Raptors, who selected star forward Pascal Siakam with the 27th pick of the 2017 NBA Draft and Norman Powell 46th overall in 2015. Even their undrafted free-agent signings have been sensational, as Fred VanVleet, Terrence Davis, and Chris Boucher have all had impacts in Toronto either this season or last season. 

There are many different directions that the Knicks can go with their late picks. It would make a lot of sense to take the best player available in both situations given the lack of talent on the roster. However, if the Knicks do draft based on position, and selected a lead guard with their lottery pick, it could make sense to draft a stretch four with one of there two late picks. A stretch four would be the ideal fit in the long run next to Mitchell Robinson, given that Robinson spends most of his time on the floor in the paint. 

One player that will likely be available in the late first round and possibly the early second round is Maryland sophomore forward Jalen Smith. Would Smith be the ideal selection for New York? Let’s go through his strengths and weaknesses as a prospect. 


Size and Athleticism

If you were watching a Maryland basketball game, it’s wasn’t hard to notice Jalen Smith as one of the NBA prospects on the floor. Smith possesses NBA size and length, as he’s 6’10” with a 7’1” wingspan.

Additionally, Smith has speed that you don’t normally see from bigs. As soon as there’s a rebound, Smith takes off down the floor and is an immediate threat in transition. According to The Stepien, Smith ranked in the 99th percentile in transition offense, as he was 24-of-29 (82.8%) on those shots. The play below against Michigan State is something that you see frequently from Smith, and the finish through contact is just an added bonus:

Smith’s leaping ability is also above average, which makes him a threat to catch lobs on offense and a shot-blocking threat on defense.

Shot Blocking

Smith ranked second in the Big Ten in blocks per game this past season, as he averaged 2.4, doubling his average from the 2018–19 season. This jump from 1.2 blocks per game in his freshman season to 2.4 in his sophomore season came on an increase of only 4.6 minutes per game, meaning his efficiency sky rocketed. His block percentage also jumped from 5.1% in his freshman season to 8.2% in his sophomore season.

Putting a player like Jalen Smith next to Mitchell Robinson can be pretty lethal when it comes to shot blocking.


Shooting and efficiency is what makes Jalen Smith a legitimate NBA prospect. This is one of the reasons why Smith smartly chose to stay at Maryland for his sophomore season because this shooting and efficiency weren’t there his freshman season.

During Jalen Smith’s freshman season, he shot 49.2% from the field, 26.8% from three, and 65.8% from the free throw line, while averaging 11.7 points per game and 6.8 rebounds per game in 26.7 minutes per game. This past season, Smith shot 53.8% from the floor, 36.8% from deep, and 75% from the free throw line, while averaging 15.5 points per game and 10.5 rebounds per game in 31.3 minutes per game.

Furthermore, Smith ranked highly in several analytical shooting statistics this past season. Per The Stepien, Smith ranked in the 75th percentile on spot ups, 76th percentile on jump shots, 89th percentile on shots around the basket, and 78th percentile on unguarded catch and shoots. While he could improve on his guarded catch-and-shoot plays (23rd percentile), and pick and pops (45th percentile), these are all pretty good indicators that he could be a solid shooter at the NBA level.

While the shot efficiency is definitely there, Smith’s assortment of shots needs to increase. Most of Smith’s shots came from around the rim, or beyond the three-point range, but he rarely took any mid-range jumpers. As you could see by the play below, Smith has the ability to make these shots, even when guarded by a solid defensive player in Xavier Tillman.

If Jalen Smith can develop his game to the point that a mid-range jumper like that is a normal occurrence for him, then his stock would go up. Based on the develop we saw in his game from his freshman to sophomore season, that’s certainly not out of the realm of possibilities. Overall Smith’s shooting is undoubtedly one of his strengths as a prospect.


Raw skill set

When watching Jalen Smith, it’s clear that he’s nowhere near polished yet as a player. In fact, while talent is there, his great size and athleticism is a major reason why his sophomore season stats were so good. In the NBA, prospects need to rely more on skill than solely size and athleticism since many players have the same size and athleticism they do.

One area of concern lies in his post-up game. Smith ranked in only the 38th percentile in college basketball in post-up shot attempts (per The Stepien). He simply doesn’t have wide array of post moves, and if it hurt him at the college level while playing against smaller competition most of the time, it will definitely hurt him at the NBA level.

Several of Smith’s points at the rim came on wide open dunks or layups. If Smith can’t score in the post at the NBA level, then his ceiling likely becomes that of a role player, possibly a better shot-blocking Bobby Portis. In that case, then Smith wouldn’t be worth selecting.


Much of Smith’s problems in the post are deeply rooted in his strength. When Smith is backing down opponents in the post, he isn’t strong enough much of the time to actually get closer to the basket. Strength is an extremely underrated trait for all NBA prospects, especially big men.

In this play below, Smith has the ball in the post against Penn State’s Myles Dread, who’s 6’4″. Despite being six inches taller than Dread, Smith could barely move Dread an inch, and has the ball stripped away from him.

This problem isn’t only limited to the post, but it’s an issue when Smith is rebounding as well. Smith averaged 10.5 rebounds per game, but despite that number, I think his rebounding is a bit overrated. This leads into Smith’s next weakness.

Defending & Rebounding Lapses

Smith doesn’t use his body properly when rebounding. For a player that’s 6’10” with a 7’1″ wingspan, you’d think that anything near him in college should be grabbed. While Smith’s not a bad rebounder, he does need to clean up some of his techniques on the glass otherwise he’ll be a significantly worse rebounder in the league.

On the first play on the thread below, 6’0″ Jamari Wheeler tips a ball in over a 6’10” Jalen Smith. In the second play here, Smith has positioning against a shorter opponent, and is bodied off allowing the opponent to grab the offensive rebound and score.

A very similar play happens here against Illinois, where Smith is out rebounded by shorter players twice on one play, before eventually recovering for a block. Obviously, he deserves credit for the great block, but he’s also never in that situation if he can just grab the rebound off of the first miss.

On defense, while Smith is a great shot-blocker, there are a few plays where opponents seem to have easy layups, even when he’s contesting it. This isn’t a major concern of mine, as it’s just a lapse that can be easily corrected. However, his strength while playing defense in the post against NBA players should be a concern.

One play that does make me cautiously optimistic about Smith’s post defense is on this possession versus Tillman with the game on the line.

Overall Takeaway

After evaluating Jalen Smith as a prospect, I don’t think the Knicks should use their late first-round pick on him. If he was still there in the second round, then the Knicks should consider him, but he still wouldn’t be my first choice.

In order for Smith to be a successful player in the league, he needs to go to the right team. He needs to go to a team that has a history of developing talent, and a place that he won’t be forced to play right away. It’s important that Smith not only gain 15-20 pounds of muscle but also develop a better post game.

If all those click, and Smith gets proper time to develop either in the G League, in practice, or both—then I think he could succeed in the NBA.

For the Knicks, they should be wary of taking a raw, developmental prospect like Smith. New York is a team that just needs talent right now, and the way to do that in the late first round, early second round is drafting players with higher floors than Jalen Smith.

While it wouldn’t be too surprising if Smith becomes a solid player in a few years, he isn’t the best fit for the New York Knicks.


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