Former Suns Lottery Pick Jalen Smith Set to make Second Career Start

Phoenix Suns, Jalen Smith (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Phoenix Suns, Jalen Smith (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

Another one bites the dust. This afternoon, the Phoenix Suns lost their fourth player to health and safety protocols, of course tearing into their thinnest position while doing so.

After dropping 16 points and grabbing eight rebounds against the Oklahoma City Thunder, backup center JaVale McGee entered quarantine just a few hours ago. He started the last two games for the Suns with fellow big man Deandre Ayton locked up in protocols too, but he now joins him alongside Jae Crowder, Elfrid Payton, and head coach Monty Williams.

With Frank Kaminsky also out for tomorrow’s game as he works through a stress reaction, Phoenix finds themselves with nobody to turn to other than their “prodigal Sun” in Jalen Smith.

Earlier this season, the Suns gave Smith the cold shoulder, refusing to pick up their team option on his rookie contract and allowing him to become a restricted free agent this summer. By declining the option, Phoenix freely passed on a low-risk, high-reward situation to express some abrupt disinterest in Smith and all that he might bring to the team in the future.

With the Suns taking Smith at No. 10 overall in the 2020 NBA Draft, the move felt shocking even with constant rumors flowing around the desert about Smith lacking the “readiness” to play at the NBA level. He did back then, and today still resembles a talented prospect that if nurtured properly might just turn into a star.

Smith only played 27 games during his rookie season, and he only played consistent minutes for the first time in his career this week after Ayton first went into protocols. Against the Memphis Grizzlies, he put up a career-high 15 points. The next game, he notched career-highs with 14 rebounds and two blocked shots.

But tomorrow afternoon, he gets a solid chance to surpass all those figures. Smith got his first career start last year during a game which Phoenix seemingly punted against the San Antonio Spurs, resting all their typical starters minus Mikal Bridges. But now he awaits his chance to earn real minutes with real superstars.

What Should we Expect from Jalen Smith in his Start with the Suns?

Smith’s combination of size and shooting touch make his game most intriguing both from a fan and coaching perspective.

In the Summer League this past year, Smith shot 35.7 percent from deep on 7.7 attempts per game. Whether knocking down triples or just threatening to do so, he promises to help space the floor for Phoenix tomorrow and open up their offense even with it shorthanded.

Smith’s size speaks for itself though. Standing at six-foot-ten and with a seven-foot-two wingspan, he carries the ideal frame to defend and finish well around the rim. Keep an eye out for him to reach over defenders for a few put-back opportunities tomorrow.

Smith also moves well for his size, typically flying up and down the court without stalling like other bigs. His speed might allow him to come through with some fun dunks on the break while working with this Phoenix squad that enjoys fast paced play. By covering ground with ease, he also might end up with some highlight reel rejections as long as he stays disciplined.

Most importantly though, watch for Smith to come out and play with some extra energy. Given his situation as a player thrown aside by the same team which drafted him, he likely has a chip on his shoulder and wants nothing more than to prove his worth while taking on this larger role.

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Smith went from a five-star recruit out of high school, to a First Team All-Big Ten player in college, then a lottery pick, and now a glorified bench warmer. As a competitor, that cannot sit well with him, and tomorrow afternoon he has a chance to unload all that frustration and reintroduce himself to the NBA.