After a season that ended with All-Big Ten and All-American honors, along with a regular-season conference title, former Maryland forward Jalen Smith opted to enter the NBA draft, set to be televised 8 p.m. Wednesday on ESPN.
A Mount Saint Joseph graduate and Baltimore native, Smith is looking to be the third Terp drafted in as many years, and the fifth since 2016.
The Baltimore Sun spoke with Sports Illustrated staff writer and NBA draft insider Jeremy Woo about where Smith is expected to be selected, Anthony Cowan’s pro prospects and a potential 2021 pick currently on Maryland’s roster.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
What is your sense of how front offices view Jalen Smith and where do you expect him to be selected?
I think, obviously, as a big guy who can shoot pretty consistently, who blocks shots, he has size and he plays hard, I think generally there’s a place for a guy like that in the NBA. Now, I don’t know if you’re talking about it as a high-ceiling pick, but I think if you look at the types of bigs who have had successful careers as role players, I think he does check some of those boxes.
For me, personally, he isn’t a guy I like as much as some of the other bigs in the draft. And I think there are some people who share this concern about the physical stiffness, about his movement. I never thought he moves that well laterally. I think defensively when he has to rotate over, he’s sometimes slow, his reaction is a little bit slow. I think some of it is just where he’s not crazy athletic, but his body has filled out a bit.
I probably guess his range is somewhere between 18 and 28 or 18 and 30, like that half of the first round I think he’ll go. He’s kind of in a group of bigs with, I’d say, Jalen, Isaiah Stewart, Vernon Carey and Zeke Nnaji. Those guys are kind of jockeying for position. I think there’s a chance he’s probably the first one out of that group picked.
Is there a particular team or system you think would be best for him?
If you look at the teams in that range, if you look at teams who are built in a way that favors stretch bigs, you could look at Miami, where the types of bigs they have come off the bench. Like the Meyers Leonard, Kelly Olynyk, those are guys who are big and can shoot. I think he kind of fits that type of system, concept.
I think you could look at Milwaukee, where they’ve had [Ersan] Ilyasova and Brook Lopez. Having Giannis [Antetokounmpo], you have to have floor-spacers, so you could look at them. You could look at Denver to a lesser extent because I don’t think he can play with [Nikola] Jokic, so I don’t know about that fit.
But teams like that, where the frontcourt spacing is really crucial, I think are the best types of fit for him.
What’s the biggest way the coronavirus pandemic affected prospects in the pre-draft process?
I think the patience factor is tough. I think not being able to get in front of teams for some guys hurt. Because teams always prefer in-person versus like a Zoom workout. Now there’s some in-person contact, so it’s negated to a point. But I think there’s some opportunity to showcase in-person that was lost.
But overall, I think through a player perspective, I don’t think it was quite as bad as it seemed a few months ago, now that teams have been able to go on the road. Maybe there are some situations where it’s harder to showcase what you’ve improved on. But because you can send video, at least there’s that element of it. It’s just different, it’s definitely something different.
Anthony Cowan had a great career at Maryland but he’s not expected to be selected in the top-60 picks. What’s the best possible scenario or system for him?
I think he’ll be in the mix for an Exhibit 10 contract [one-year deal worth the minimum salary]. I think this year is going to be interesting to see because the NBA has taken a financial hit. There might be teams that don’t roster all 15 players. There might be teams that don’t use all their Exhibit 10s because you don’t know what the situation will be with the G League.
With Anthony, I think he has a chance to get a look in camp. But if he’s going to make it, it’s going to take him some time just because the bar is really high to clear, particularly for small guards. If you’re a good backup point guard, you can play in the NBA for a long time. Every year, there are really good guards who kind of fall by the wayside and end up going to the G League or overseas because there are only so many spots for guards, and particularly if you’re smaller. So he’s going to have to keep fighting.
The Terps are going to need a big season from Aaron Wiggins, a top-50 recruit in 2018 who’s had a bit of draft buzz in previous years. What does he need to show this year to establish himself as a legitimate NBA prospect?
With Wiggins, I think the big thing has always been consistency. Physically, he checks the boxes for a wing. He’s got good tools, he’s agile, got a pretty good frame. You always look at him and he’s a good eye-test guy.
The biggest thing is going to be he’s going to have to hit 3s more consistently; 37 percent from the field, that’s going to have to improve. The fact that he had trouble being efficient with Cowan and Smith on the team, he didn’t have to be the guy anyway and he was still having issues with efficiency. The shot selection is overall really going to have to improve.
But I think he has a chance and I think, at worst, he’ll be in the mix for looks in the G League. But he’s a guy, yeah, I think teams will keep an eye on with Maryland just to see if there’s a leap coming or not.