Knicks could target Pacers backup big man in free agency

Jalen Smith, Knicks
Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

With the impending free agencies of Isaiah Hartenstein and Precious Achiuwa, the New York Knicks will be in the market for depth at the center position. Indiana Pacers C Jalen Smith could be a solid option for the Knicks in free agency.

Jalen Smith has become a valuable NBA rotation player over the course of his career

New York Knicks forward Taj Gibson (67) rebounds the ball while Indiana Pacers forward Jalen Smith (25) defends in the second half at Gainbridge Fieldhouse
Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Smith has turned his career around after initial struggles early in his career with the Phoenix Suns, averaging just 4.1 points and 3.2 rebounds per game in a season and a half with the Suns. In two and a half seasons with the Pacers, Smith has improved across the board, averaging 10.2 points and 5.2 rebounds in his career with the Pacers.

The former 2020 lottery pick is coming off the best season of his career in 2024. He averaged 9.9 points, and 5.5 rebounds per game last season as the Pacers backup center. The big man was notably efficient from the floor last season, shooting 59% from the field, and 42% from three-point range, both career-highs.

Smith likely to enter free agency following the best season of his career

Smith has a $5.4 million player option for next season, which he is expected to decline and enter free agency. Given the uncertainty surrounding the Knicks’ center situation, with Isaiah Hartenstein and Precious Achiuwa also entering free agency, Smith could be a good option for the Knicks this offseason.

Smith could provide the Knicks with a different look on offense than they are used to

New York Knicks center Isaiah Hartenstein (55) dunks in the fourth quarter against the Brooklyn Nets at Madison Square Garden
Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

The 24-year-old could give the Knicks spacing for the bench unit with his much-improved shooting stroke, something that the team has not been used to out of the center position in recent years. Prior to last season’s 42% mark from three, his previous career-high 33% in 2022. Smith has also become a more willing shooter as his career has progressed. With the Suns, Smith only averaged 1.0 3PA per game. In his time with the Pacers, he has averaged 2.8 3PA per game, more than doubling his volume from earlier in his career.

The Knicks have had a knack in recent years for getting the most out of players who otherwise were tossed to the side on previous teams. Smith is still young, and perhaps could tap into some of his unfound potential should he sign with the Knicks.

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