The 2023-24 NBA season is almost here with training camps set to open at the end of the month. For many NBA teams, the starting lineup is not set in stone. Training camp and preseason will likely decide who gets into the starting lineup once the regular season begins. For one of those teams, the Houston Rockets, there are a couple of different starting lineup decisions to make on the roster. There's one player though who may be in jeopardy of losing his starting spot and that's Jabari Smith Jr.
Power forward Jabari Smith Jr.
On the final game of the 2022-23 NBA season, the Rockets starting lineup consistent of Josh Christopher, Jalen Green, KJ Martin, Jabari Smith Jr. and Alperen Sengun. Flash forward to the present day and Christopher and Martin are no longer on the Rockets roster. Kevin Porter Jr. figured to be in the starting lineup but his place in the league is in serious jeopardy. The Rockets will have at least two spots in the starting lineup to fill, but it's possible they could more than that.
Jabari Smith Jr. didn't have that bad of a rookie season last year. He made the All-Rookie Second Team while averaging 12.8 points per game, 7.2 rebounds and 1.3 assists with splits of 40.8 percent shooting from the field, 30.7 percent shooting from the three-point line and 78.6 percent shooting from the free-throw line. It's just that a little more might have been expected from the No. 3 overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft.
It obviously wouldn't be a good look for the former No. 3 overall pick to lose his starting spot this quickly, and there's absolutely no indication that his spot is actually in jeopardy. But the Rockets have an abundance of wings and forwards on the roster who are going to need minutes.
Fred VanVleet figures to start in the backcourt along with Jalen Green. Alperen Segun has the starting center spot on lock. That leaves the two forward spots in the Rockets starting lineup as the positions potentially open. Smith should be considered the favorite to start for now, but he could be pushed in training camp by fellow second-year forward Tari Eason and rookie forward Cam Whitmore.
Eason and Whitmore are both capable of playing power forward and small forward. By plenty of advance metrics as well as the eye-test, the Rockets were just better as a team when Eason was on the court. Whitmore is arguably the steal of the draft, a lottery talent who fell to the middle of the second round.
There's also the matter of Dillon Brooks whom the Rockets are going to be paying a significant salary. That's a lot of money to be paying a player to come off the bench. Along with Brooks' recent performance at the FIBA World Cup, he's probably going to be the favorite to start at small forward.
It's hard to envision a rookie like Whitmore bumping Smith out of the Rockets starting lineup. It's not even clear how big of a role Whitmore will have this season. He's just supremely talented and on a mission to prove other teams wrong for passing on him in the draft. He's going to challenge somebody for minutes at some point this season.
That leaves Eason as the most likely candidate to grab Smith's starting power forward spot during training camp. Smith does have a phenomenal NBA Summer League working in his favor and he's also spent much of the offseason working out with Kevin Durant who has a similar body type. If Smith can bring the same type of intensity he had during summer league, he should probably be safe come opening night.
But if not, someone like Eason could make a serious push to be in the Rockets starting lineup when the season tips-off.