OKC Thunder: Rising draft prospect Jalen Smith media session

OKC Thunder fans should keep their eye on big man Jalen Smith who was among the first draft prospect group featured in virtual media interviews.

Early in the pre-draft process, Jalen Smith was a big man with a palpable skillset the OKC Thunder likely have earmarked on a shortlist. However, as the Maryland big man’s interviews are increasing so too is his draft stock.  In the spring Smith was rarely spotted on any mock drafts first round boards but he’s risen as high as 13th recently.

If he stays in the lower end of the first round he’ll be an intriguing addition (read potential steal) given his work ethic and highly transferable NBA-ready skills. Thunderous Intentions will dive deeper via our prospect preview, but for the moment here’s some insight into the youngsters via his zoom media interview session that can be viewed in its entirety on the NBA official site.

Maryland alum Jalen Smith two seasons spent with the Terrapins witnessed the big man showcase continuous growth. This draft class is heavy on guards so Smith is one of the coveted big men who can play either frontcourt position particularly with the league leaning toward more small-ball lineups.

Perhaps the most noteworthy statistical improvement was his 3-point shooting where Smith jumped 10 percentage points from 26.8 percent to 36.8 percent this season. In 31 games this season he averaged 15.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks.

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Jalen Smith media interview highlights

Teams showing interest in Smith:

Reporters inquired about specific teams Smith has interviewed with and got confirmation they included his home town Wizards, the  Nets, Bulls, Spurs, Raptors, and Suns

Smith noted he spoke to the Spurs GM (RC Bufford), assistant managers, and some of the scouting personnel. He called it one of the top organizations in the NBA and would be honored if he was selected by them calling his interview very positive.

Similarly, he cited the history of the Bulls and the new improving young squad. He referred to his Wizards interview as the most interesting stating there were joking a lot during it. Being from the area if the Wizards do end up selecting the Maryland big he noted his parents would be able to attend every game. Also of note, during this pre-draft process, he’s living very close to the Capital One Centre passing it when he travels to his workout sessions.

Despite his roots in Washington, he grew up a huge Kobe Bryant (and subsequently Lakers) fan. Smith noted Bryant impacted him in terms of his work ethic and tenacity.

How the pandemic has impacted preparation for the draft

The limitations of the pandemic meant the Maryland big man like all the prospects wasn’t going to have a typical pre-draft process.

Smith says his team has navigated the situation well expecting the long hiatus. Therefore he initially worked out three days a week and has progressed to four days a week. The team didn’t want him to over inundate his body and gear up for the Draft Combine.

He’s happy with his progress and excited to show teams the growth he’s made since the NCAA season ended.

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Strengths, motivations, and areas of focus:

Teams learning about Smith’s influences should be suitably impressed. As noted Bryant was who he idolized growing up but Kevin Garnett is the player he tried to pattern his game after and in the current era he relates most to Jaren Jackson.

That’s an impressive trio of players making his penchant for hard work and competitive zest all the more understandable.

In terms of strengths, he feels he could bring defensive versatility to the NBA immediately with his size and athleticism. At Maryland his blocks and rebounding were impressive and while the work ethic is undeniable the pundits often point to his lack of mobility on defense (particularly laterally) as his greatest weaknesses.

Asked about the huge leap in 3-point efficiency between his freshman and sophomore seasons he noted shot repetition in practice sessions and hard work to develop consistency and efficiency.

The 3-point shot remains a key area of focus during the pre-draft process and Smith credits weight training for helping improve his efficiency.

The other key area he’s worked to improve is his handle. Smith noted the bigs in the new era tend to be able to create their own shots and are better ballhandlers so those are the key areas he’s focusing on.

Thunderous Intentions will dive deeper in our draft prospect profile on Smith but suffice to say he should be someone the OKC Thunder spends time with. His game and attributes are the ideal fit for the new era big man and if his work ethic is any indication the 20-year old will invest in making strides quickly.

Next: NBA Draft big board 2.0 – Top 30 prospects