At last year’s 2020 NBA draft, the Suns took heat for choosing Jalen Smith out of Maryland with the No. 10 pick. Smith was considered a much lower-rated prospect, and the pick was called, “shocking,” by SB Nation, a “major surprise” by Bleacher Report and, in giving the pick a D- on draft night, CBS Sports wrote, “I don’t understand it.”
The pick is looking a little more understandable in Summer League. While the Las Vegas games always come with an asterisk—they don’t count, and the competition is poor—they are a solid showcase for players looking to display the development of their games.
Smith has done that, to an extent. While he has struggled with his shooting (36.4%), he has been effective as a rebounder (12.7 per game) and has been pretty good from the 3-point line (38.9%). He’s averaged 16.0 points and while he is still uncomfortably thin for banging around in the middle, his potential has been there.
But the Suns can’t wait around on potential. Increasingly, one question that has popped up around the Suns is whether the team should let Smith develop into a backup for Deandre Ayton or look to deal him for immediate help sooner rather than later.
Jalen Smith’s Trade Value on the Rise
Smith is getting noticed around the league. As one scout told me, “I know they got knocked for taking him in that draft but he has always had great upside. I think he is still a year away, but when he is 23-24 (Smith is 21 now), I think you’re going to see an impressive inside-outside guy.”
Ah but, after reaching the NBA Finals and giving Chris Paul a four-year extension, the Suns are now on a sped-up timetable. They don’t really have a couple of years to wait around for Smith to develop—not if dealing him away now could bring in a piece that helps win a title. There are many around the league who think Smith’s summer-league push is designed to boost his trade value.
That value was not exactly bustling after a rookie year that was pretty much lost. Smith played 27 games, just 5.8 minutes per game, and averaged 2.0 points and 1.4 rebounds. Like all rookies last year, he did not have summer league or training camp, and was set back even further by an early bout with COVID-19 that kept him out for nearly a month.
Jones: Jalen Smith Will Play More Next Season
Jones, in a meeting with Suns reporters via virtual call just ahead of the start of free agency, did say that he expected Smith to play a role for the Suns next season.
“Jalen, like every guy on this team, took steps forward this year,” Jones told reporters, per SB Nation. “For a rookie to step into this situation, it’s extremely difficult. You go from a team that’s building to a team that’s built. And now, we’re playing playoff basketball 82 games a night. And for him, it’s been a great trajectory.”
That is precisely what you’d say to boost a player’s value, though. Jones did not seem so confident in Smith’s ability to play backup 5 to Ayton after he signed free-agent JaVale McGee and brought back big man Frank Kaminsky. It is possible that Smith could play some power forward behind Jae Crowder next season.
More likely, though, is that the Suns will look to cash in on Smith’s rising trade value and see if he can be swapped for veteran help.