2. Jalen Smith
While we’re on the subject of potential rotation switches, we also have to talk about Jalen Smith’s performance.
Following a new contract signed in 2022, Smith underperformed in the 2022-23 season, ending up as one of the worst three-point shooters in the league, shooting 28% from behind the line after 22 games of shooting 37% for the Indiana Pacers the year before.
However, this seems to have been left in the past, as Smith has put in work during the offseason, adding some extra weight and muscle, trying to shed the “Stix” nickname that was given to him due to his rail-thin physique.
This offseason work has clearly paid off through two preseason games, as following an impressive performance against Memphis, where he hit the game-tying shot to send it to overtime, Smith carried his momentum to Houston, where he put up another exceptional performance.
Smith has seen more minutes as the backup center rather than the power forward position, which he played for the majority of the 2023 season. Smith already looks comfortable in his new role, as he shot a perfect 5-of-5 from the field and also grabbed six rebounds, tied for most on the team with Obi Toppin.
Smith’s impact was also felt on the stat sheet, as he finished with the highest +/- on the team with +9. In fact, Smith was the only player on the Pacers to finish with a positive +/-, as Isaiah Jackson, another backup big man, finished with -18, the worst on the team by a good margin.
In a mere 12 minutes of playing time, Jalen Smith put up 11 points, six rebounds, and one block. Quite an impressive performance given his limited time on the court.
Only time will tell if Smith can keep this level of play up in the regular season. However, if he can, then there’s another potential rotation player Rick Carlisle will need to reserve minutes for.