NCAA Tournament: Auburn’s Jabari Smith Will Be This Year’s No. 1 Pick and Is a March Madness Must-Watch

Auburn freshman Jabari Smith was behind Duke phenom Paulo Bachero and Gonzaga big man Chet Holmgren as the country’s best one-and-done prospect entering the 2021-22 college basketball season.

But it didn’t take long for Jabari to vault himself to the top of some 2022 NBA Draft boards.

The Tigers’ diaper dandy has gotten better as the year has gone on and has already put together one dominant performance in the Men’s NCAA Tournament, posting 20 points and 14 rebounds in the opening round.

As he leads his Auburn team deeper into March, Smith is likely to have another fantastic game or two (or more), making him a must-watch for college and NBA fans alike.

Jabari Smith has been a force during his freshman season at Auburn

Auburn freshman Jabari Smith is a must-watch during this year's NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament.
Jabari Smith of the Auburn Tigers puts up a shot against the Jacksonville State Gamecocks during the first round of the 2022 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. | Grant Halverson/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

The Auburn men’s basketball team has begun to morph into a much better program the last few seasons and has brought in more and more top-tier talent.

But Smith is head coach Bruce Pearl’s best recruit yet.

Jabari was the seventh-ranked player in the country according to 247Sports and the second-ranked power forward behind Banchero.

He had other offers from schools like North Carolina, LSU, and Florida State — the Seminoles offered Smith in 2018 as a 15-year-old.

And he hasn’t disappointed. If anything, he’s exceeded expectations. Smith has averaged 17.2 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 2.1 stocks (steals plus blocks) as an 18-year-old in the SEC.

His best trait is his dead-eye shooting ability at 6-foot-10. Jabari has hit better than 43% of his 5.5 three-point attempts per game.

Smith was named the 2021-22 SEC Rookie of the Year, a member of the SEC All-Freshman Team, and the All-SEC Team.

Now he’s getting his chance to shine on the national stage.

The freshman is a joy to watch with his shooting ability and competitiveness

This has to be taken with an obvious grain of salt: but Jabari has some Kevin Durant-like traits to his game.

He’s tall with a high release, which makes his jumper unblockable, he works hard, and he’s shown a flavor for coming up clutch in big moments, albeit in limited opportunities thus far in his career.

Smith can pull up from anywhere and has a few tools in his bag in the post. He can create his own shot at all three levels.

He’s not as fluid of an athlete as KD and is nowhere near the same defender, but offensively he shows glimpses of the same things that made Durant obliterate college basketball as a freshman at Texas.

Jabari’s gotten better as the season has gone along as well, which is promising for a kid who will turn 19 barely a month before the draft. He’s begun to show some playmaking ability that was absent early in the year.

As if all that wasn’t enough to make you tune in to watch Smith during the Men’s NCAA Tournament, The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor says of Jabari in his scouting report, “March Madness will be an opportunity for him to have a shining moment.”

So there you go.

Smith could land at No. 1 overall in the NBA draft once he leaves Auburn

All those traits could very well land Jabari the No. 1 spot in this summer’s NBA draft. But he’s going to pick up steam as the process goes on.

Holmgren was pushed around a bit by stronger players in the post during the Bulldogs’ matchup with Memphis in the Round of 32 — including fellow 2022 lottery pick Jalen Duren.

The holes in Banchero’s game have shown themselves at Duke as an unwilling (at best) defender who can struggle offensively against longer players with similar athletic ability.

It’s likely a three-person race for the No. 1 pick, and Smith isn’t without his flaws either. He’s not an explosive athlete and isn’t a great ballhandler or individual defender. But scouts will start drooling once they get a better look at his jumper and how it could project as a stretch 4 or 5 at the NBA level.

It’s time to start paying attention now, though, because Jabari has One Shining Moment written all over him.

All statistics courtesy of Sports Reference.

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