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Phoenix Suns assign former Maryland star Jalen Smith, the No. 10 pick in the draft, to G League

The Phoenix Suns have assigned rookie forward Jalen Smith to the NBA’s G League.

The former Mount Saint Joseph star and No. 10 overall draft pick out of Maryland hasn’t played much this season for the Suns, who have won six consecutive games and have a 17-9 record. The 20-year-old has appeared in eight games and is averaging 1.8 points and 1.3 rebounds.

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Smith was inactive for Sunday night’s game against the Orlando Magic. He missed five games from late December to early January under the NBA’s health and safety protocols after testing positive for COVID-19. The Suns recently had several players return from injuries, which made the 6-foot-10 Smith’s path to playing time even harder.

“It’s all IQ and understanding how this game is played, ‘cause you know your ability is there, but now you have to embrace a program and comprehend so much that’s being thrown at you while still playing your game,” coach Monty Williams recently told reporters. “We just feel like right now if he can pick up some of the vernacular, the nuances of certain situations, it’s going to help him get on the floor because you have to understand all that stuff as a young player.”

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Smith will play for the Agua Caliente Clippers, which is the affiliate of the Los Angeles Clippers. The league’s games are being played this season near Orlando, Florida, at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. Each team will play 15 games, and the top eight teams will advance to a playoff.

“Being a lottery pick, that’s what everyone aims for. But being drafted into the right situation is what’s most important,” Smith said when he was picked in November. “And I feel as though this is the best situation for me, to learn from guards like Chris Paul, Devin Booker, learn from Deandre Ayton and all the other guys and just be able to find my role and just mesh with it.”

Smith, a five-star recruit in the Class of 2018, averaged 11.7 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks as a freshman at Maryland. Nicknamed “Stix” in high school for his slender frame, he gained 30 pounds during his time with the Terps. In his second season, he improved his per-game averages in points (15.5), rebounds (10.5) and blocks (2.4), along with his shooting percentages, leading Maryland to its first-ever Big Ten regular-season title. He also received All-American and All-Big Ten honors, recorded the third most double doubles in the country (21) and was the only NCAA player to record at least 60 blocks and 30 3-pointers.

Most experts predicted Smith would be taken outside the lottery, with some even giving the star a second-round grade. Still, he became the highest Terps draft pick since Alex Len was taken fifth overall in 2015 by the Suns.

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“He’s a diligent worker,” Williams said. “I don’t think any young player understands how hard you have to work to be a good player in this league. He embraced that part, which we’re really pleased with. He doesn’t miss days to get work in.”

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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