Jabari Smith’s 2022 NBA Draft slide to Rockets ‘added a chip’

As the 2022 NBA Draft commenced, Jabari Smith sat on the floor at Barclays Center, waiting. 

“You’re just sitting there, cameras floating around, you don’t know where you’re going,” Smith said. “You get jitters a little bit, you’re shaking. You’ve been working for this all your life. You know you just want to hear your name called.” 

Many presumed that Smith, the gifted 6-foot-10 forward out of Auburn, wouldn’t have to wait at all to hear his name uttered Thursday night. But the draft is rife with surprises, and the first came when the Magic passed on Smith, making Duke’s Paolo Banchero the first overall pick instead. 

And after the Thunder took Chet Holmgren of Gonzaga at No. 2, Smith fell into the Rockets’ lap at No. 3, his wait over. 

“Definitely added a chip,” Smith, sporting a Rockets hat, said of his draft slide. “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.” 

Jabari Smith on stage with Adam Silver after being drafted by the Rockets.
Corey Sipkin for the NY POST

Smith, 19, didn’t have a pre-draft workout with the Rockets; he held sessions only with the Magic and Thunder. Yet Houston knew that a big man would come its way, with Banchero, Holmgren and Smith the consensus top prospects. The Rockets prepared accordingly, trading their starting last year’s power forward, Christian Wood, on Tuesday. 

So, while Smith conceded he “didn’t expect” to become a Rocket, he will head to Houston eager. 

“Real motivated to get down there, get to work and just meet my teammates, meet my staff, just meet everybody down there,” Smith said. 

Smith dazzled as a do-it-all forward in his lone season with the Tigers, averaging 16.9 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. He is the prototypical big man in today’s NBA, a 42 percent shooter from beyond the 3-point arc who also blocked a shot per game. 

In his press conference, Smith rattled off those attributes: his defensive versatility, shooting ability, scoring capability. 

“That’s what they’re getting,” Smith declared. 

Jabari Smith walks out with his family.
Jabari Smith walks out with his family.
Getty Images

Smith could focus on those aspects again — his skill set, his goal of winning an NBA championship and becoming a Hall of Famer, the opportunity to play alongside the No. 2 pick from last year, Jalen Green — because of what happened minutes earlier. 

When he heard his name ring throughout Barclays Center, his dreaded anticipation had come to an end. Oversized graphics of himself and the Rockets’ logo flash across the arena screens, and the jitters subsided. 

“After that, it’s just a whole new life,” Smith said. 

And after a few extra minutes of waiting, it’s one he’ll begin in Houston.