Houston Rockets: Evaluating the progress of their 6 recent first-round picks

Jabari Smith Jr., Houston Rockets, Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Jabari Smith Jr., Houston Rockets, Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Houston Rockets are in the middle of a rebuild, and their current record reflects that. They have a 3-14 record with wins against the Utah Jazz, the Orlando Magic, and the Dallas Mavericks. The Rockets’ roster is filled with plenty of young talent, though, including six first-round picks from the last two draft classes.

Among that group are a second and a third overall pick, both trying to live up to the high expectations that come with being a top draft pick. Now, all Houston has to do is develop those young talents and allow them to grow to become all they could possibly be in the league. So, let’s look at how the Rockets’ six recent first-round picks are doing.

Houston Rockets: Jabari Smith Jr.

Jabari Smith Jr. was the third overall pick in the 2022 draft after playing just a single season of college basketball. Smith was touted as a defensive talent with the skill set to be a great stretch four out of college. In his first few weeks as a pro, he has delivered an uneven performance, though. Smith is certainly showing flashes of greatness, especially defensively, but he is not quite yet living up to his full potential.

On defense, he has already proven to be an effective weak-side shot blocker in the NBA. His block average is actually tied for third among all rookies. Smith is a versatile defender all over the court who can switch, cover bigger players, and fill the gaps on a young team that still needs to commit to playing defense as a group.

While Smith is doing his job on the defensive end of the floor, he is struggling to score consistently. He is averaging 10.9 points on a 33.3 percent field goal percentage, and he is only shooting 30.2 percent from three, compared to his 42 percent in college.

Smith did have some great scoring games, though, like his 22 points against the Golden State Warriors, which shine a light on all the things he could possibly bring to the table offensively. Smith needs to become more involved in the Rockets’ offense, but that is an issue for the entire team to deal with.

They could, for example, utilize more drives and kick-out passes for open threes from guards Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr. Getting his outside shot back on track should be one of Smith’s main concerns because then he can not only translate these kick-out passes but also attract defensive attention and attack the closeouts.

In Smith’s development process with the Rockets, the long-term is much more important than just his rookie season, but he is already showing notable improvements compared to the first handful of games of the season. Smith has a high ceiling, and at this point, he is still learning and growing to reach the potential that made him the third overall pick.