Jabari Smith

Southwest Notes: J. Smith, Fernando, Bassey, Jackson Jr.

The RocketsJabari Smith and the Magic’s Paolo Banchero had their first regular season matchup Monday since Orlando’s last-minute decision to bypass Smith and make Banchero the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft, writes Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. Banchero has gotten off to a sizzling start and is the early favorite for Rookie of the Year, while Smith is still adjusting to the NBA.

“He just needs to feel comfortable on the floor so we’re figuring that out as we go along,” Houston coach Stephen Silas said. “Having him on the elbow not just as a scorer but as a passer, we’re going to explore that. He has shown the ability to shoot the pull-up in transition as well as give it up and trail in transition. His 3-point shooting really sets up the rest of his game. People are hugged up to him and they close out to him. So, he can get to his drives or his pull-ups or whatever off that.”

Smith, who is shooting just 30.3% from the field and 30% from three-point range, said he hasn’t been discouraged by the slow start. He admits the transition from college is difficult, but he’s focused on learning to play at the NBA level.

“I feel like it’s just confidence, just trusting my work, being aggressive, being real precise with what I’m doing, not hesitating, and just playing my game,” Smith said. “I feel like it’s going to come. I’m not worried at all.”

There’s more from the Southwest Division:

  • Bruno Fernando, who was the Rockets‘ starting center for the first two games of the season, is working to return from left patellar tendinosis, Feigen adds in a separate story. The team estimates he may need two more weeks to get medically cleared. “Bruno is … moving around pretty well but he has to see the doctor when we get back (from the road trip),” Silas said. “We’re making sure that he’s OK to continue ramping up. He’s ramping up. Hopefully, he’ll be back sooner than later. Conditioning definitely is a part of it.” Silas couldn’t offer a timetable for Jae’Sean Tate, who has been limited to three games because of a sore ankle.
  • The injury to Zach Collins will create an opportunity for Charles Bassey, who signed a two-way deal with the Spurs last month, tweets Tom Orsborn of The San Antonio Express-News. Coach Gregg Popovich has been impressed with what he’s seen from Bassey so far. “He kind of looks the part, doesn’t look like a deer in the headlights or anything like that,” Popovich said (Twitter link). “He is out there playing. He is aggressive, a good defender, moved the ball well.”
  • Grizzlies forward Jaren Jackson Jr. recently played five-on-five for the first time since offseason foot surgery, tweets Tim MacMahon of ESPN. “It’s kind of baby steps right now,” coach Taylor Jenkins said.

Southwest Notes: Campazzo, Morant, Durant, Sengun, Rockets

Facundo Campazzo‘s visa issues have been resolved and he’ll be in uniform Tuesday and ready to play in the Mavericks’ game in New Orleans, coach Jason Kidd told Dwain Price of the team’s website (Twitter link) and other media members.

Campazzo was signed to a one-year, non-guaranteed contract last week to add depth for the Mavericks at point guard. Campazzo spent the last two seasons with the Nuggets after establishing himself as one of the top point guards in the EuroLeague.

We have more from the Southwest Division:

  • Grizzlies star Ja Morant poured in 49 points against Houston during the opening week of the season and Nets perennial All-Star Kevin Durant is dazzled by Morant’s talent, ESPN’s Nick Friedell writes. “He’s a unique player. A lot of athleticism and creativity out there,” Durant said. “Body type reminds you of somebody like — well he’s taller than A.I. [Allen Iverson], but a wiry, strong player … but he’s an incredible player, man.”
  • The Rockets’ rotation, particularly at center, remains a fluid situation, Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle notes. Alperen Sengun didn’t start on Saturday even with Bruno Fernando out with a sore left knee. While there are some matchups where Sengun will be suited for the starting lineup, there are others where it’s wise for him to be on the second unit with Fernando or Usman Garuba in the starting five. Sengun missed Monday’s game with an illness, Feigen tweets.
  • Jalen Green and Jabari Smith Jr. are the main building blocks in the Rockets’ rebuild and Kelly Iko of The Athletic takes a deep dive into the state of the franchise and its plans to develop those young players.

Western Notes: Lakers, Nuggets, Rockets, Potter, Liddell, Spurs

Although he didn’t play in the Lakers‘ preseason finale on Friday due to lower back soreness, Anthony Davis will have “no restrictions, whatsoever” when the team’s regular season tips off on Tuesday in Golden State, head coach Darvin Ham said (link via Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times).

Russell Westbrook, who sustained a left hamstring injury in Friday’s game, could “definitely” be available for the opener, according to Ham, but reserve point guard Dennis Schröder likely won’t be, as Turner writes.

Ham said that Schröder’s thumb ligament injury was still being evaluated as of Sunday, and while he’s still considered day-to-day, the ailment may take a little time to heal, tweets Kyle Goon of The Southern California News Group.

Here’s more from around the Western Conference:

  • Nikola Jokic (wrist) and Jamal Murray (hamstring) are both expected to be available for the Nuggets‘ regular season opener on Wednesday in Utah, writes Mike Singer of The Denver Post. Barring an unexpected setback, it will be the first time Denver’s two stars have shared the court in a regular season game since April 2021.
  • The Rockets will likely have a handful of players on the injury report to start the season, but head coach Stephen Silas said on Sunday that he’s hopeful rookie Jabari Smith (ankle) will be available for the team’s opener, according to Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. Silas added that Garrison Mathews (illness) and Daishen Nix (back) are “close” to being ready too. Jae’Sean Tate (ankle) is the least likely of the group to be available for the opener, Feigen writes.
  • The two-way contracts signed in recent days by Jazz center Micah Potter and Pelicans forward E.J. Liddell both cover two years, Hoops Rumors has confirmed. As our tracker shows, those are the fifth and sixth two-way deals signed this offseason that are for two years instead of one.
  • Noting that the Spurs have had “so many guys over the years” develop their games in the G League, head coach Gregg Popovich said two-way players Dominick Barlow and Jordan Hall will likely spend most of their time in Austin this season, per Tom Orsborn of The San Antonio Express-News. “He’ll spend some time in the G League and play lots of minutes,” Popovich said, specifically addressing Barlow’s situation. “If he was with us right now, he’s not going to get on the court that much, which doesn’t help him develop.”

Rockets Notes: Smith, Sengun, Silas, Season Preview

Rockets rookie big man Jabari Smith Jr. remains sidelined as he continues to rehabilitate from a sprained left ankle, though he was cleared for contact practices on Tuesday, writes Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. The 6’10” power forward, the third pick out of Auburn, expressed confidence that he might be available for Houston’s 2022/23 season opener, scheduled for Wednesday, October 19, against the Hawks.

“I’m working to get back in shape now, just getting ready, getting my body ready for the first regular-season game,” Smith said. “It’s been tough, just sitting out, watching my teammates get better. I’m working to get better. I know I’ll be back in no time. It’s a long season.”

There’s more out of Houston:

  • Second-year Rockets center Alperen Sengun is working to get more involved in Houston’s offense, writes Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle in a separate piece. “Al-P’s strength is having the basketball and he hasn’t had the ball much,” head coach Stephen Silas remarked. “He’s been a pick-and-roll player. As we go through training camp, which is still going on, he’ll get his post-ups and he’ll get his elbow catches and it’ll be more comfortable for him.”
  • Rockets head coach Stephen Silas has rejoined the club following a week-long absence due to his second COVID-19 infection, per Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. Silas missed two Houston preseason contests and four team practices. Assistant coach John Lucas led the team in Silas’s absence. “It wasn’t a great experience going through it… but I feel good now,” Silas said. “I told the guys this; the hardest part is not seeing them and not being around them. The practices, it is what it is, the drills and the games and stuff. But just being around these guys, they’re such a fun group — I missed them.”
  • With Rockets first-round draft selections Jabari Smith Jr., Tari Eason and TyTy Washington Jr. now in the fold, joining young players Jalen GreenKevin Porter Jr., Kenyon Martin Jr., Josh Christopher, and Usman Garuba, the rebuilding Rockets appear poised to enjoy a fascinating 2022/23 season of development, though that probably won’t translate to wins. John Hollinger of The Athletic previews the club’s season outlook, projecting a 22-60 finish.

Rockets Notes: Tate, Mathews, Offense, Smith, Silas, Gordon

Rockets guard Garrison Mathews and forward Jae’Sean Tate have returned to the team’s active lineup and are eager to work with their new colleagues, writes Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle.

“We have a bunch of new guys so it’s important to play with everybody,” Mathews said. “Everybody’s different this year. We have a bunch of athletic guys, a bunch of guys that can guard. For me, my job stays the same, space, play hard, take charges. That’s (my) main job.”

Tate, meanwhile, is looking to mesh with his new compatriots on defense.

“I think it’s ultimately just to get more chemistry,” Tate said. “Shots are going to come; shots are going to fall throughout the season. Really, my main focus throughout this training camp is to get our communication down, especially on the defensive end, knowing we can trust each other. If we make mistakes or miss gambles, just have that chemistry.”

There’s more out of Houston:

  • The Rockets have plenty of talent on offense, but the club will have to figure out a way to get its sometimes-disparate pieces in sync, opines Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. Head coach Stephen Silas and his staff are cooking up creative new ways to incorporate his best players on the hardwood together, though there have been some growing pains. “Our biggest concern — we have a lot of guys who can score — is whether they’re going to share the basketball,” assistant coach John Lucas said. “If they’re going to share the basketball, we’re going to have great continuity, great shots. If we don’t worry about who’s getting what shots, we’ll be very good.”
  • Rockets rookie lottery selection Jabari Smith Jr. suffered a left ankle sprain during the team’s Wednesday practice and will miss Houston’s Friday preseason contest with the Raptors, reports Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle“I would say it was more precautionary” than anything else, noted assistant coach John Lucas, who has been running practices with Stephen Silas currently sidelined. Silas has missed the team’s last three practices while in the league’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols, though the team hopes he will return in time for tomorrow’s Raptors game, writes Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle in a separate piece.
  • Veteran Rockets shooting guard Eric Gordon has changed agencies, sources inform Kelly Iko of The Athletic (Twitter link). Gordon – who is under contract through 2024, albeit with a non-guaranteed salary next season – has departed longtime representatives Landmark Sports Agency in favor of CAA.

Stephen Silas Discusses Unexpected Challenges With Rockets

Stephen Silas didn’t know he was walking into a rebuilding situation when the Rockets hired him as their head coach prior to the 2020/21 season. Silas was taking over a team that had two perennial All-Stars in James Harden and Russell Westbrook and was coming off a long string of playoff appearances.

Both players recommended Silas for the job, but they both issued trade requests before the start of training camp, with Westbrook being shipped to Washington during the preseason and Harden forcing his way to Brooklyn after eight regular season games. Silas discusses that sudden transition, and all the challenges that followed, in an interview with Sam Amick of The Athletic.

“You’re trying to just tackle each situation as it came, whether it was the (Harden) stuff that you read in the paper or online and then having to answer questions about it, or the Russ stuff,” Silas said. “All those things weren’t exactly the things that I thought I was going to be talking about in my first few days as a head coach, and my first few days of training camp having to answer all those questions. But the task is there, and you just kind of do it. It’s hard to say that it was especially hard because I think it’s always going to be hard (laughs). But a task comes, there’s a mountain to climb, so you climb it. There’s a big wave coming in; you move out of the way.”

Silas also credited the Rockets’ ownership and general manager Rafael Stone for supporting him amid the turmoil.

“We were tested early, but my relationship with ownership, my relationship with management is good,” he added. “Through all of this kind of stuff that was going on, that was the thing that I was able to grasp onto and hold onto was knowing that they were in my corner because they selected me.”

Silas addressed several other topics during the interview:

On the progress of his young backcourt, Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr.:

“I think Jalen Green’s growth and improvement encapsulates our season. Early in the season, he was really struggling. He was pressing, not doing what he was used to doing, which is scoring points easily. And it was hard for him. But he worked through it. We stuck with him. And he got better slowly but surely as the season went along and ended up where at the end of the season, he was playing great. Same thing with Kevin Porter Jr. He started the season off turning the ball over quite a bit, learning how to play the point guard position. I think he led the league in turnovers early in the season, but as the season went along, he started to understand.”

On the challenges faced by center Alperen Sengun as he adjusted to the NBA during his rookie season:

“He makes things happen when he has the ball in his hands, whether he’s in the low post, scoring or making passes in the high post, at the elbow, making plays for his teammates. He does a good job of helping his teammates play well. But part of that growth and part of that struggle at the beginning of the season is that nobody knew how to play with him, and he didn’t know how to play with our guys. So as the season went along, it became more natural for guys to know when those passes are coming, and for him to know that this is where you’re gonna most likely get the ball and this is where you can be effective.”

On what he likes about Jabari Smith, the No. 3 pick in this year’s draft:

“He is a two-way player and very much a difference-maker as far as his length and his defensive instincts and his rebounding and his grit. He’s a quiet kid, and he can fool you sometimes. When he gets on the court, he is intense and competitive and has an edge to him — which I love. So yeah, his shooting is very good, and that will be his thing offensively, as well as his ability to shot fake and drive the ball and get to the rim, use his length, his offensive rebounding and whatnot. But it’s not very often when you have a high, high pick where you can say ‘Wow, he’s really good on both ends.’ And you can see it, where he could be a difference-maker on both ends of the floor.”

On his relationship with Harden and Westbrook, considering the circumstances of their departure:

“All three people who you mentioned (including former Rockets general manager Daryl Morey) had a big part in me being here and being a head coach in the NBA. So when I see them, there’s definitely no ill will. I’ve been around the NBA my whole life, so I understand the business part of it and everything that goes into that. But yeah, I’m good. I’m good with those guys, and I appreciate them for putting their stamp on my head coaching career.”

Rockets Notes: Offseason, Tate, Porter, Smith

Rockets players spent most of their summer training together in Houston, writes Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. Instead of holding mini-camps at popular vacation sites, as the team has done in the past, virtually the entire roster has been working out at the Toyota Center.

“It’s been a good summer,” general manager Rafael Stone said. “I’m very happy. The summer is really about individuals. It’s less about the team. It’s more about where a specific guy, he saw a weakness; he worked on it. We identified something we wanted him to focus on; he did. We’ve seen that.”

After back-to-back years of posting the NBA’s worst record, the Rockets are rebuilding around youth, with seven total first-round picks in the last two drafts. Kevin Porter Jr. believes the offseason workouts have been beneficial for this year’s first-rounders, Jabari Smith, Tari Eason and TyTy Washington, as they prepare for their rookie season.

“We’ve been together for a couple months now,” Porter said. “I’ve been seeing growth and development. The new guys have been learning fast. I’ve been learning fast. So, it’s been good. They fit right in. They fit already.”

There’s more from Houston:

  • Jae’Sean Tate, whose offseason included a new three-year, $20.6MM contract, believes the Rockets are moving in the right direction, Feigen adds in the same piece. “I definitely think we’ve been on the bottom the last couple years so there’s only (one) way we can go and that is up,” Tate said. “Just getting more experience with our rookie class from last year. I’m going into my third year and Kevin is going into his fourth. I just think that experience is going to help us out this year and getting that year under our belt but also continue to build a culture with this new class coming in.”
  • The most important question for the organization is determining whether Porter is the right point guard for the future, Kelly Iko of The Athletic states in a preseason preview of the Rockets. Porter got off to a shaky start in his first full season at the position, but he showed improvement as the year wore on. Iko believes Porter and the Rockets both want to get a rookie scale extension worked out before the new season begins.
  • Smith will be a better fit at power forward than the traded Christian Wood because he won’t demand the ball on offense, Iko adds in the same story.

Magic Notes: Shittu, Harris, Bamba, Banchero

After three years of working for an NBA opportunity, Simisola Shittu may be getting his best chance with the Magic, writes Tony East of Forbes. A report earlier this month indicates that Shittu will be in training camp with Orlando, likely on an Exhibit 10 contract.

The 22-year-old was considered a top prospect when he enrolled at Vanderbilt, but he suffered a torn ACL that healed just in time for his lone collegiate season. He went undrafted in 2019 and spent two years in the G League before heading to Israel. He played for the Pacers in this year’s Las Vegas Summer League, earning himself a chance with the Magic.

“I’m resilient,” he said. “Certain cards don’t fall the right way or anything like that. But at the end of the day, I feel like I’ve just continued to grow from it and gotten better each year.”

There’s more from Orlando:

Southwest Notes: Rockets, McGee, Spurs, Pelicans

When the Rockets became convinced on draft day that the Magic were going to use the first overall pick on Paolo Banchero, Houston made Orlando a trade offer for that No. 1 pick, sources tell Tim MacMahon and Brian Windhorst of ESPN.

As MacMahon and Windhorst explain, the Rockets had been expecting to end up with Banchero and had only recently been given Jabari Smith‘s medical information from his agent, Wallace Prather. Bill Duffy, Chet Holmgren‘s agent, told the Rockets he’d only give them Holmgren’s medicals if he got the sense that both Orlando and Oklahoma City were passing on his client.

According to ESPN’s duo, the Rockets were comfortable staying at No. 3 if Smith fell to them, but were worried about having to make a decision on Holmgren without getting much time to look over his medicals, which was why they inquired about moving up. After the Magic turned them down, the Thunder took Holmgren at No. 2, with Smith falling to Houston at No. 3 — all three teams ultimately left the draft happy, and while Banchero and Smith were surprised by where they ended up, neither was upset by the outcome.

“Jabari ended up in a place that fits who he is,” Prather said. “There was nothing but excitement on Jabari’s part about going to Houston. We love their young core. We love the city. We love the passion of their fan base.”

For what it’s worth, Banchero got the upper hand on Smith in their respective Summer League debuts on Thursday, as Tim Bontemps of ESPN writes. The Magic forward scored 17 points in Orlando’s win over Smith and the Rockets.

Here’s more from around the Southwest:

  • A coaching assistant last season with the Rockets, Will Dunn has been promoted to an assistant coach position, writes Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle.
  • Appearing on ESPN’s NBA Today (video link), Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd confirmed that the plan is to insert newly-signed big man JaVale McGee into the starting five. McGee told ESPN when he agreed to a deal with Dallas last week that he expected to be the team’s starting center.
  • The Spurs ruled out Jeremy Sochan and Joe Wieskamp for the entire Las Vegas Summer League, per Tom Orsborn of The San Antonio Express-News (Twitter link). Sochan missed all of the team’s pre-Vegas practices due to COVID-19, while Wieskamp, who remains a restricted free agent for San Antonio, sprained his ankle in a Tuesday practice.
  • Noting that the Pelicans‘ front office has shown a knack for identifying under-the-radar talent, Christian Clark of NOLA.com identifies three players on the team’s Summer League roster who could warrant a longer look from the club.

Rockets Sign Jabari Smith, Tari Eason, TyTy Washington

The Rockets have officially signed their trio of first-round picks, the team announced in a press release.

Jabari Smith, the No. 3 pick out of Auburn, averaged 16.9 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.1 SPG and 1.0 BPG in 34 games (28.8 MPG) as a freshman.

Tari Eason, the No. 17 pick out of LSU, averaged 16.6 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 1.9 SPG and 1.1 BPG in 33 games (24.4 MPG) as a sophomore.

TyTy Washington, the No. 29 pick out of Kentucky, averaged 12.5 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 3.9 APG and 1.3 SPG in 31 games (29.2 MPG) as a freshman.

Assuming the three players signed for the maximum allowable 120% of the rookie scale, which nearly every team gives to their first-round selections, Smith will earn $8,882,640 in 2022/23, Eason will make $3,359,160, and Washington will get $2,210,040.