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Rockets rookie Jabari Smith Jr.’s brutally honest take on not being taken with No. 1 pick in 2022 NBA Draft

Rockets, Jabari Smith Jr, 2022 NBA Draft

BROOKLYN — Jabari Smith Jr. is the latest highly touted rookie to join the Houston Rockets. The sharpshooting forward out of Auburn was selected third overall in the 2022 NBA Draft. The Rockets are hoping Smith’s ability to space the floor and defended multiple positions will help them return to relevance.

Anticipation. That was all Smith could feel as he waited for his name to be called by Adam Silver, he told reporters after being picked. “Like you’re just sitting there, cameras floating around, you don’t know where you’re going,” the Rockets rookie said. “You get jitters a little bit, you’re shaking, you’ve been working for this all your life.”

Smith became the highest draft pick in Auburn history, beating out the school’s most legendary NBA prospect, Charles Barkley, who was picked fifth overall in 1984. He is joining a team that is headlined by Jalen Green and features other young talents like Alperen Sengun and Josh Christopher.

Yet, the draft did not shake out in the best way possible for Smith. In the weeks leading up to the draft, all signs pointed to the Orlando Magic not having any plans to pass up on him with their top overall selection. At the last moment, they went with Duke’s Paolo Banchero.

Even though Smith only slid two spots from where he was originally believed to go, that’s enough for him to use as motivation.

“Definitely added a chip,” Smith said, “but God makes no mistakes, so I’m happy to be here. I’m happy to be where I’m wanted. I’m happy to get to Houston and just show them, give them what they picked. Just happy to be here.”

Although all the reports and Vegas numbers indicated Smith was the favorite to be taken first overall, he says that he didn’t come into the draft expecting to be the top pick.

“I really didn’t expect it, but I knew it was a possibility. So when it didn’t happen, I wasn’t surprised,” Smith said. “All the guys up for the pick are great players. They bring a lot to the table. Like I said in other interviews, it was a coin flip. When it happened, I just was happy for [Banchero], clapped for him and just waited to hear my name called.”

Smith didn’t have to wait very long. After the Oklahoma City Thunder chose Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren second overall, the Rockets selected him. Like most teams picking high in the draft, they need a lot of help. They are coming off of a season where they won only 20 games, the fewest in the league.

In his lone season with Auburn, Smith averaged 16.9 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game. He shot 42.0 percent from deep while attempting 5.5 triples per game. On top of his supreme shooting abilities, he can defend very well. At 6-foot-10 and with a 7-1 wingspan, he can match up well with many players.

The Rockets are hoping someone who can shoot and defend at a high level can turn their fortunes around. Smith will also have other first-year players to help him out. Tari Eason, drafted 17th overall, brings defense and intensity to the table and TyTy Washington, whose draft rights were traded for, can add even more of an offensive spark.

After such a wild process, Smith was just happy to end up with the Rockets in the 2022 NBA Draft. The anticipation that consumed him was quickly replaced with joy and relief.

“You know you just want to hear your name called, and when it happens you get a little relief, emotions settle in,” Smith said. “After that, it’s just a whole new life. You’re a part of a new team, new family. So got to put it behind you and just go forward.” Although he will be going forward with the team he didn’t expect to, Smith will be extra motivated to help make the Rockets a winner again.