Though he had already been playing in the NBA for more than a month, Jason Smith’s true welcome-to-the-NBA moment came Dec. 8 at Madison Square Garden in a blowout win against the New York Knicks.
During the second half, Smith received a no-look pass from teammate Andre Miller on a fastbreak and finished the play with a flying, emphatic two-handed slam dunk.
The play made it on Sports Center later that night.
“That was cool,” said Smith, a forward for the Philadelphia 76ers. “It was definitely an eye-opener.”
Recently Smith found himself on Sports Center again. Although this time, he probably didn’t think it was that cool.
Tuesday Smith got posterized, or dunked on, by Indiana Pacers forward Shawne Williams, and the dunk was played multiple times on Sports Center’s top 10.
Being on both sides of a highlight reel are just two of the many ups and downs Smith has experienced in his first season as a pro.
All things considered though, Smith’s rookie campaign, which recently reached the halfway point, has been successful so far.
The 7-foot, 240-pounder, who last spring left CSU a year early to enter the NBA, is averaging a respectable 5.1 points, 3.2 rebounds and 0.7 blocks in 15.6 minutes while appearing in all of this team’s 42 games-proving he was indeed ready to jump from college to the NBA.
And Smith is contributing more that just a few points and rebounds a game for Philadelphia. Before a Jan. 6 matchup against the Denver Nuggets, Smith’s teammates were quick to point out the rookie’s hustle and toughness.
“He’s a big part of our team,” said point guard Andre Miller. “He’s doing a good job for his first year. He can shoot the ball, get up and down the court. He brings a lot.”
Statistically, Smith’s best game was Jan. 4 against the Los Angeles Lakers in which he scored 10 points and grabbed nine rebounds in just 24 minutes.
But perhaps Smith’s most memorable game came two nights later when he returned to his home state to face off against the Nuggets. Smith had an average night on the court, scoring six points, collecting two rebounds and blocking one shot in a 109-96 loss.
Smith’s blocked shot on a dunk attempt by Denver forward/center Nene in the first quarter was surely his highlight of the game, but it was Smith’s support in the stands that night at Pepsi Center that really made Jan. 6 a night he’ll remember.
Five-hundred supporters from Smith’s hometown of Kersey were in attendance, and an additional 500 fans from CSU were there too.
“Wow. Wow,” Smith said to the group of 1,000 fans who gathered to see him after the game. “I never expected this many people to come out and watch me play.”
Donning a replica Smith jersey and 76ers baseball cap was Smith’s father, Jack Smith, who couldn’t have been happier to see his son play in person for the first time in the NBA.
“We’re all really proud of him,” Jack Smith said, “the community of Kersey and the entire state and region (are proud).”
A ‘very long’ career ahead of him
In his final season as a Ram last winter, Smith attempted a 3-pointer just three times.
Smith has already attempted three-times that number this season, going 2-9 from beyond the arc. And keep in mind, the NBA 3-point line is four feet longer than the NCAA one.
It’s that rare combination of size and shooting touch that will allow Smith to have a “very long NBA career,” says Philadelphia assistant coach Henry Bibby.
“Versatility,” Bibby said, “that’s what he’s going to bring. When he goes in and plays the 4 (power forward) and knocks down that long shot, you have to respect him.”
While opponents have to respect that his shooting ability, his teammates get to appreciate it.
“I especially like how he spreads the floor,” said Philadelphia forward Rodney Carney.
As a second-year player, Carney is familiar with the transition Smith is going through.
However last year, Carney says, veterans like Chris Webber and Allen Iverson would “make us do some crazy things.”
This year, 76er rookies are only designated to get breakfast the morning of home games.
“He still has to be accepted,” Jack Smith said.
So while the Rams still struggle to find their first conference win without Smith, many fans may find themselves wondering what things would be like had No. 14 decided to stay for one more year.
But for Smith, who will make more than $1 million this year, his choice seems to be making plenty of dollars and sense.
“No, no regrets. I like it in the NBA,” he said.