Becoming the Big Man On Campus: How Jalen Smith Improves His Draft Stock

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Last season the Maryland Terrapins boasted one of the nation’s premier frontcourt duos. Sophomore Bruno Fernando and Freshman Jalen Smith were college basketball’s version of the Twin Towers, originally formed by the Houston Rockets pair of Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson or San Antonio’s version with Tim Duncan and David Robinson. Fernando and Smith averaged a strong 25.3 points, 17.4 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per game and accounted for over 33% of the team’s scoring and 50+% of the rebounds and blocks.

The Terrapins leaned heavily on their 6’10” duo and were able to capitalize with 6.47 made baskets at the rim per game. Fernando and Smith are not just tall, but generally more athletic than their opponents. In the majority of their games last season, the pair can be seen leading the transition from one end of the court to the other. Their combination of speed and length presented a large target for lead guard Anthony Cowan Jr. to push the ball over the defense for a quick bucket.

Maryland was reliant on Smith and Fernando to provide a scoring base in most of their games and opportunities at the rim were their cash-cow. The duo was capable of stretching defenses outside of the paint, but in different ways. Smith’s numbers can largely be attributed to his athleticism and ability to produce a quality amount of ‘easy’ looks per game. Fernando on the other hand was solid because of his all-around consistency shooting the ball.

Fernando’s ability to hit the midrange jumper significantly boosted his draft stock and helped him garner consideration as a lottery pick by some analysts. His only ‘below average’ areas, per the data collected in the following table*, were above the 3-point break and NBA-range 3-pointers. The shooting versatility, in addition to his physicality, was huge towards Fernando becoming the 34th selection in the 2019 NBA Draft.

Jalen Smith:
Left Wing: 4-12 (33.3%)
Above the Break: 14-47 (29.79%)
Right Wing: 1-10 (10.0%)
At the Rim: 99-148 (66.89%)
Short Midrange: 10-36 (27.78%)
Long Midrange: 15-38 (39.47%)
NBA 3s: 13-47 (27.66%)
Total: 143-291 (49.14%)

Bruno Fernando:
Left Wing: 0-0 (% N/A)
Above the Break: 3-8 (37.5%)
Right Wing: 0-2 (0%)
At the Rim: 121-167 (72.46%)
Short Midrange: 35-79 (44.30%)
Long Midrange: 14-28 (50%)
NBA 3s: 1-5 (20%)
Total: 173-284 (60.92%)

Smith’s numbers show his ability to stretch the floor on a larger scale, due to his production with NBA 3-pointers. However, Smith was below typical shooting percentages in all areas of the court except for around the rim. He was an all-or-nothing shooter. Despite being the higher prospect out of high school, his game needs refinement to garner the same respect amongst NBA scouting departments.

There are no holes in Smith’s game at the rim. He can dunk on anybody and has a physicality few can match in the post. His ability to put the ball on the floor keeps scoring options open and creates mismatches against smaller defenders. To take the next step in his development, he needs to take advantage of looks in the mid-range areas and hit them consistently.

The Terrapins have signed a very strong and deep frontcourt class this offseason, highlighted by 7’2″ Center Chol Marial. Coach Mark Turgeon can continue to utilize high-end talent and height as a weapon in the frontcourt, even after losing Fernando. This season it’s Smith’s turn to step up and be the primary weapon. He will be the go-to option and will need to contribute more than occasional opportunities from 3 and breakaway dunks.

If he can develop and consistently make the midrange jumper in 2019, a big load will be taken off the freshman Centers slated to play alongside him and Maryland will go a long ways towards living up to the preseason hype. It shouldn’t be a tall ask for a player capable of hitting NBA 3-pointers, but his play this year will determine his chances of being selected in the first round of the 2020 NBA Draft.

*Shot Chart stats provided by The Stepien

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