5-star Jabari Smith Jr talks Auburn, recent improvements

5-star class of 2021 forward Jabari Smith Jr (Sandy Creek High School, Georgia) is Auburn’s highest ranked basketball target and has proven that ranking true this summer.

Smith is listed as a 6’10” 210lb power forward by 247Sports and ranked No. 5 by both 247 and the 247 Composite. 

Auburn has been linked to Smith over the last year for several reasons. At Summer Jam on Sept. 12, Smith said Auburn’s playing style and atmosphere are two of the biggest reasons.

“They play very free and very intense,” said Smith. “Coach Pearl is a great coach. They have a family environment down there. It’s family oriented, and people around the community know the players.”

LSU, Georgia and Tennessee are Smith’s other biggest contenders according to Corey Evans of Rivals, and North Carolina has entered the race in recent months.

Auburn checks multiple boxes Smith listed as important in the past, such as being close to home and having a preferable playing style.

Auburn is also considered one of the top contenders for five-star guard JD Davison. Davison and Smith were AAU teammates for a few tournaments this summer on the Atlanta Celtics, and the two five-stars expressed interest on social media about playing together in college.

Smith said Auburn’s playing style is one of its most attractive qualities, specifically when it comes to how Auburn uses its versatile forwards and wings. Now that Smith improved his handle and strength, he fits that role better than ever.

“My ball handling has improved [this summer] and really just my overall versatility,” said Smith. “I actually do feel like I could fit into a role like [point forward]. They always mention Chuma and different guys like that who play my position. Now they have JT Thor, and we’re kind of similar.” 

Smith has always had the ability to shoot, but his improving strength lets him bully smaller defenders and get to his preferred spots at will.

His improving handle is helping him limit turnovers and take advantage of slower defenders on the perimeter and in transition. 

Smith is also better at attacking the basket and creating space by dribbling, thanks to his handle.

The visible improvements in his passing game are another reason Auburn coaches are pitching a role similar to Chuma Okeke’s and Thor’s to Smith, considering Auburn’s point forwards are asked to pass and handle the ball frequently.

“I feel like I’ve always had the niche to pass the ball, but my ball handling had to improve,” said Smith. “With that improvement, it’s all coming together. My court vision was always there, but as my ball handling improved, it keeps showing.”

The 6’10” forward can start fast breaks off defensive rebounds, and Smith’s quick trigger and handle lets him get into scoring position before defenses are set.

His size and strength also give him the versatility to play center, and he mentioned Auburn’s ability to showcase his defensive versatility as another positive.

“I feel like they would improve my defense a lot and show off different assets of my defense,” said Smith. “That just sticks out.”

On offense, Smith’s fundamentals are great. His footwork, shooting form and handle are all pluses for his size and age. 

His bag of tricks continues to get deeper, allowing him to score in almost any manner at the high school and AAU level.

Smith can score with his back to the basket or facing up from the high post or low post, has one of the best midrange games in high school, has a great—although inconsistent at times—three point shot and now has the handle to attack the rim and run the court with or without the ball. 

He needs to work on defense—which will likely come with getting stronger and more athletic—to take his game to the next level.

Smith already has many of the size attributes, instincts and attitudes necessary to be a good defender, with his offense looking like a refined handle and a more consistent shooting game away from being elite.

“I think I’ve gotten tougher,” said Smith. “Not necessarily just my game improved, but my mentality and how I look at basketball and valuing the game. I’ve started working harder and really valuing the game, playing with more intensity and stuff like that.”

It’s clear why the five-star forward is a top priority for several schools, and in June, Smith told Jake Lieberman he could commit as early as “the start of his high school season, or during the season.