A conversation with Rockets rookie forward Jabari Smith Jr.

Dec 11, 2022; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Rockets forward Jabari Smith Jr. (1) celebrates a play against the Milwaukee Bucks in the second half at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

A conversation with Rockets rookie forward Jabari Smith Jr.

Jabari Smith Jr’s numbers won’t jump off the page through the first 26 games of his NBA career, but the third overall pick out of Auburn is finding ways to impact the game beyond the stat line. Gallery Sports sat down with Smith and talked about John Lucas’ practices, how he’s adjusting to life in Houston, areas of his game he needs to improve, and more.

Gallery Sports: You didn’t work out for the Rockets before the draft, so can you give me your first experience working with John Lucas once you arrived?

Jabari Smith Jr: “It was good. He sat me down, we talked, and then we got straight to work after that. He said he’s going to push me, he’s going to push my buttons, he’s going to get the best out of me, so that’s what he’s doing right now, and it’s working.”

When Alperen Sengun came back from Turkey early in the offseason, he said he joked that Lucas is crazy and his practices are crazy, and he felt like he had to go through them with his teammates, so are Lucas’ practices as crazy as he says?

“Yeah, definitely. Just experiencing that, just the intensity he’s always expecting to get out of you, so it’s a good thing, but it does get crazy sometimes.”

When you’re in college, you’re usually playing twice a week, and the games are only 40 minutes; how have you handled the grind of playing 3-4 games a week or back-to-backs that are eight minutes longer than college games?

“Its been tough, but I’m just focusing on taking care of my body, focusing on staying mentally strong through the fatigue, and just going at every game with the same mindset of just to win, and it makes it a little easier.”

Do you feel like you’re building camaraderie with your teammates?

“Just us being around each other, us going through stuff together, us succeeding together, and just us growing together, we’re a young team, so it’s cool to be with people around my age and just grow with them.”

What do you think is the highlight of your season so far?

“Probably when we came back to beat the Hawks here at home. Real good moment for us, we all came together, we all stuck with each other and just fought for that win, so it was a pretty good moment.”

How’s it been being in Houston?

“It’s good. It’s a good city. The fans are pretty cool here. Loving the team, it’s a pretty good city. I like it.”

It’s hard to make big improvements during a season just because you don’t have a lot of time, so what are you working on incrementally right now, trying to improve before the end of the season?

“Just focusing on getting stronger. Seeing where I can find ways to get to the rim, different counters, and stuff like that. Still building on myself and my game.”

Has the team outlined a plan for what they would like you to really work on once you get past the season?

“We haven’t really talked about it much, but right now they’re just telling me to focus on learning and just taking the good with the bad and just keep growing.”

When you talk about getting stronger is that more lower body or upper body?

“Just in general, just improve my overall strength, quickness, all of that. It all goes together.”

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  • […] In an interview with Gallery Sports last month, Smith called that moment his memorable up that point, and it started a 10-game stretch that saw the Rockets go 6-4 and included wins over the Sixers, Bucks, and Suns twice. The team hasn’t been able to replicate that good stretch, but they at least showed it’s there and showed what can happen when they are motivated to play together. […]

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