With the NBA Finals underway, 28 franchises are prepping for the draft and how to remake their rosters in free agency. The Toronto Raptors are in a challenging situation, as they have no first-round pick at the 2022 Draft and very little wiggle room under the cap. One cheaper player who the Raptors could target reasonably is Indiana Pacers big Jalen Smith.
His contractual situation is unique considering he is only 22. Drafted 10th overall in 2020 by the Phoenix Suns, the Maryland alum had the team option in his rookie deal declined early by Phoenix in an extraordinary and rare decision.
By the time he was traded to the Pacers, he was a potential rising talent who would become a free agent soon. Now an unrestricted free agent, the Pacers cannot control his contract because of their cap situation and having the RFA restriction taken out of their hands.
As for the Raptors, they may find themselves in a bidding war if they choose to pursue the 22-year-old Smith. His type of potential is not available as a FA often, and he could fix several areas Raptors head coach Nick Nurse would like addressed.
When asked about a lob threat, Nurse replied:
"“That would help too. I think that probably lifts a little bit of pressure for guys like Fred [VanVleet] and Gary [Trent Jr.], OG [Anunoby], those guys that could get more open corner looks because of the pressure being put on the rim on the weak side.”"
Jalen Smith would address several Toronto Raptors needs.
Smith appears to be a reliable rotation player who suffered from a lack of opportunity with the Suns. The 2022 Raptors’ bench was worst in the league in minutes played and points production. Interestingly enough, both Chris Boucher and Thad Young are free agents.
It is a small sample size, but Smith’s 22 games in Indiana are a stark contrast to his time in Phoenix. He played 24 minutes per game with the Pacers, averaging 13.4 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. This stat line alone would make him a top-eight player in Nurse’s nightly rotation.
His gangly 6-10 frame would make him the Raptors’ tallest player. A pick-and-roll threat with an improving jumper, Smith, would give the Raptors another proficient scorer in the paint along with Scottie Barnes and Pascal Siakam. As a team, the Raptors averaged 46.9 points in the paint per game in 2022, which was No. 15 in the league.
As for the catch and shoot issue, the Raptors got better as the season wore on, yet were not the most consistent shooting team. Smith may be developing nicely into a stretch big, as he made 37.3% of his three-point shot attempts.
The contract situation with Smith could get wild. It might not be crazy to see him get a multi-year deal approaching eight figures per year in the right environment.
If his production in Indiana indicates his talent improving, Smith is a strong candidate to add to the Raptors’ roster to address some of the team’s most significant weaknesses, regardless of his salary.