Everyone was understandably curious as Jabari Smith Jr. made his first practice of this draft season and the debate over the first pick in the draft certainly seemed to be starting to heat up in a more tangible way.
The media – more than for the usual practice or availability – waited outside the AdventHealth practice facility inside the Amway Center as they waited for the doors to open and reveal their first glimpse of the player who became the betting favorite to be the first draft pick.
As the wait continued, more and more current Magic players made their way – Franz Wagner, Moe Wagner, Cole Anthony, Jalen Suggs, Jonathan Isaac and Mo Bamba all arrived as the media waited for the end of Jabari Smith’s workout – preparing for their own daily workouts in the offseason.
But it would be hard not to think there was at least some curiosity about catching the end or seeing their potential new teammate.
At this point, it’s all a feeling process for both parties as they get to know each other a bit more seriously and ultimately make the selection to add to the squad on June 23.
So what did the Magic learn about Smith in their first face-to-face meeting with the Auburn forward? A lot of things on the pitch will remain behind those closed doors as they analyze the final bits of his game.
Jabari Smith Jr. practiced for the Orlando Magic on Thursday as the potential No. 1 pick made it clear his desire to help his team and his desire to help his team win.
What has become clear about Smith’s time with the media, however, is his desire to be big, but more his desire to do what the team needs. This is where his versatility at both ends of the court has helped him rise to this position.
It may have been one-on-one training for Smith — like most top draft prospects, he didn’t work against anyone, it was him and the coaching staff going one-on-one — but he talk about whatever he wants. contribute to the team he will one day join.
What he hoped the Magic would receive is that he is a team player willing to do what it takes to win. But more importantly, he will do what his team needs him to achieve that goal, whether as a top scorer or as a ground spacer and defender.
It permeated his entire philosophy on his game and that’s the impression he left on the media at the Amway Center.
“I want it to feel like I’m a team player,” Smith said after practice on Thursday. “I don’t worry about stats or accolades or anything like that. My main goal in life is to win an NBA championship. That’s my goal. It doesn’t matter if I average 30, it doesn’t matter if I have an average of 10, that’s what I want to do. Anything a team wants me to do to have an impact on winning, that’s what I want to do.
It’s definitely a good answer for a young player entering a new situation and a new league. And Smith certainly has the talent to make that kind of impact.
At this point, every Magic fan knows the pros and cons of Smith. Everyone knows he’s a versatile winger seemingly capable of defending all four wing positions with impressive shooting splits and a knack for scoring from the middle of the post.
The distraction on him is his ability to create shots for himself from the dribble – and maybe Smith said it himself after practice, his need to show and improve his passing and grip of decision. Smith said he’s spent the past three months keeping his body straight and honing his skills as he prepares for the draft.
Last year, Smith averaged 16.9 points per game and 7.4 rebounds per game with shooting spreads of 42.9/42.0/79.9. At 6-foot-10 with his wingspan and mobility, he checks all the boxes for a modern NBA wing. Definitely the kind of player the Magic loves.
Indeed, Smith said part of the discussion he had with Magic management and coaching staff was about how the league is changing and how Smith fits into this changing landscape. .
Smith certainly fits that.
“It’s going to be tough picking a player because I like to take something from everyone,” Smith said when asked to compare himself to other players in the league. “I like watching guys who can do a lot like Giannis defensively, like Jayson Tatum, Kevin Durant, of course. Guys who can do a lot aren’t limited in their game.”
While there is certainly some discussion about whether Smith can take his game to the next level and be the star, Smith is also making it clear that he wants to do what his team needs to do first.
It was definitely part of what made him successful at Auburn and there were definitely parts of his game he didn’t show as he tried to adapt to what his team needed.
It’s certainly part of the attitude and culture that Magic is trying to build. The team mentality and the brotherhood mentality that has so many current Magic players still in Orlando for off-season practices and even to be there for pre-draft practice.
This went off screen for someone like Smith.
“The games I watched from them, I could tell how much fun they were having no matter the record or the struggles they faced this season. You would never guess their record was what it was. Just watching them play and the joy they had. You would think they play Game 7 of the Finals every game. Nobody is moping because it was a difficult season. Everyone still had that pop and energy.
It certainly left the impression that the players rose to greet him and shake his hand, welcoming him home – even if it was only for the day. Smith said he could feel the positive energy in the building and how excited everyone was to get to work and keep improving.
Of course, like everyone else with the Magic, the vibes may have been good last year, but there’s always that desire to win. As much as Smith put in the work and wants to be a team player and make his teammates better, he also wants to win.
And that was the other theme that came up time and time again.
When Smith was asked why he should be the No. 1 pick, that’s what he said. And he certainly has the game to back him up.
“I just feel my will to win,” Smith said after practice Thursday. “I can do so many things. I feel like I can come in right away and have an instant impact on any team with my shooting ability and my ability to play defense and all that. My ability to play defense, rebound and push. My ability to keep several positions. I feel like it separates me from different people.
That may just be saying the right things, but it’s something that Smith says separates him from the other top picks in this draft. And understanding that will to win and exactly how Smith intends to apply it in his development and to his team is part of what the Magic were surely trying to figure out in this pre-draft practice.
He’s a player who wants the pressure that comes with being the first choice. And a player who knows that he is more than himself and that he fits into a team.
Whether that means the Magic making him their selection and permanently adding him to their roster is a decision that will come in two weeks.