It may hard to remember with the NBA Finals coming up, but some may recall the NBA recently announced November 18 as 2020 Draft Day, and an NBA Combine setup officially began today that will allow players to participate in league and team interviews via videoconference through October 16. In-market medical exams and “Pro-Day” style videos and workouts will also be permitted beginning in October.
One prospect who has revealed he has spoken to the Spurs is Jalen Smith: a 6’10” power forward (also listed as a center in some cases) coming off his sophomore year at the University of Maryland.
Former Maryland PF Jalen Smith said in a Combine Zoom interview today he interviewed with #Spurs a couple of months ago. Smith (6-10, 225) averaged 15.5 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game last season.— Tom Orsborn (@tom_orsborn) September 28, 2020
He had high praise for the Spurs organization and their ability to develop young players, while also believing he could make an immediate impact, especially defensively.
Jalen Smith on #Spurs: "They really develop their players and make sure that they are learning at the speed they want them. They have their style of play that is recognized around the whole league. It would be an honor to be drafted for the Spurs and to play for coach Popovich."— Tom Orsborn (@tom_orsborn) September 28, 2020
Jalen Smith says he believes he can make an immediate impact with his "defensive intensity," adding that every team has scorers, "but not every team has defensive impact, and I feel that my size and athleticism...will have a great impact on the defense." #Spurs— Tom Orsborn (@tom_orsborn) September 28, 2020
It’s always great to bring in players who want to be in San Antonio and are willing to be coached and developed in Gregg Popovich’s system. That being said, while Smith has seen some rise in his draft stock over the summer — from late first-round pick to a potential lottery pick in some mock drafts — he has not been projected any higher than 13th: two picks behind the Spurs’ 11th. Odds are if the Spurs drafted him there, it would more about projecting what he would bring down the road, not necessarily where he aligns with his fellow draft talent at this very moment, similar to Luka Samanic.
Still, while many fans are rooting for the Spurs to look more towards filling the gap at the small forward position, it is also noteworthy that they are facing an uncertain future in other parts of the front court as well, with LaMarcus Aldridge having just one year left on his contract, Jakob Poeltl entering restricted free agency, and Samanic not appearing NBA-ready quite yet. If the right big man came along, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to give him a look.
If this year’s playoffs have taught us anything, it’s that the center position, while evolving, is still alive and well, especially if one is versatile on offense. Although not considered a strong passer, a growing trend and something Smith brings to the table is an improving three-point shot, as he hit nearly 37% on 3 three-point attempts per game his sophmore season in college. He’s also considered one of the better defensive players in the draft, and his 7’2” wingspan would help make up a bit for his slightly undersized frame for an NBA center.
Where do you stand on Smith as a potential Spur? It’s important to remember that this was just an interview, and the Spurs wouldn’t be doing their homework if they didn’t talk to and evaluate every possible prospect at every position in their draft range (especially with so much extra time), but expectations will be high with this being their first lottery pick since Tim Duncan. Can they strike lottery gold again, even without the top overall pick? Only time will tell.