How Suns Big Jalen Smith can Participate in NBA All-Star Weekend

Phoenix Suns, Jalen Smith (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)
Phoenix Suns, Jalen Smith (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images) /

When COVID-19 dug its wretched claws into the Phoenix Suns a few weeks ago, the team looked exposed, vulnerable, and all but certain to relinquish its hold on the West.

Veteran swingman Jae Crowder and backup point guard Elfrid Payton first left the team, heading into league health and safety protocols on Dec. 26th. Soon after, head coach Monty Williams followed them, as did centers Deandre Ayton and JaVale McGee.

Phoenix’s star studded backcourt of Chris Paul and Devin Booker managed to stick with the team though, and certainly did well to keep the Suns ship afloat, as the team went 4-2 during their stretch minus those players. But running around with them, Jalen Smith was also plugging up holes, tossing water back overboard, and navigating Phoenix through its most turbulent storm yet.

Earlier this year, the Suns essentially stamped the “bust” sticker onto Smith’s forehead, neglecting to pick up his rookie option and making him a free agent this summer, less than two years removed from drafting him at No. 10 overall. But with the Suns missing so many players especially at the five, they found themselves with no choice but to ask Smith for assistance.

“Well, well, well…how the turntables,” he said, looking back at Phoenix’s coaching staff after getting the call to start each game after McGee went out.

But with Michael Scott references aside, Smith indeed performed well, averaging 17.3 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 1.0 blocks per game as a starter. He also posted .583/.375/.909 shooting spits, illustrating some highly efficient work behind those initial numbers.

But with Ayton and McGee returning last week, Smith’s minutes have already decreased. The team still intends to use Smith more often, as he logged some minutes at power forward off the bench against Miami the other day, but he will undoubtedly go back to playing a less featured role.

However, Smith still might find himself under a large spotlight in the future, even an All-Star weekend sized one.

Often the forgotten component within the NBA’s All-Star extravaganza, the Rising Stars Challenge offers Smith a new chance to show off his skills and partake in the league-wide celebration.

The event welcomes rookie and sophomore players, drafted to two different teams by different assistant coaches. With Smith being a second-year player and one who recently burst onto the NBA scene, he certainly strikes as a solid candidate to become selected and compete in the challenge.

The event plays out as a normal basketball game, just like the All-Star game itself. Participants are split up into domestic and abroad teams based on where each player hails from. So with Smith being from Virginia, he would play on this event’s “USA” team.

Some notable players to partake in this event include current Phoenix Stars Devin Booker and Ayton. It also featured NBA legends such as Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Dwayne Wade, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Dirk Nowitzki.

Although this contest remains a “just for fun event,” it still promises to make Smith’s talents that much more known around the league. Whether that helps improve his trade value, or just makes ownership more likely to re-sign him this summer, both options bode well for the Suns.

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It also grants Smith a well-deserved award for his excellence in reserve this year. He was in the dog house less than a month ago, and despite all that negativity, he responded perfectly, coming in for the Suns and working to keep their season alive. Hats off the former Terrapin.