Sixers made the right move trading for Zhaire Smith

Zhaire Smith | Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by Michelle Farsi/NBAE via Getty Images)
Zhaire Smith | Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by Michelle Farsi/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Philadelphia 76ers swapped Mikal Bridges for Zhaire Smith and a 2021 first round pick, a move that keeps the long-term in focus.

With the 10th pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, the Philadelphia 76ers selected hometown hero Mikal Bridges; a smooth-shooting 6-foot-7 wing who seemed to be a perfect fit with the team’s core. Everything was going swimmingly for Philadelphia’s fan base.

30 minutes later, the Sixers traded Bridges to Phoenix for Zhaire Smith and Miami’s 2021 first-round pick. It’s safe to say the majority of Sixers fans were gut-wrenched.

I am here before you today to talk you off the ledge. While I love Mikal Bridges and what he would bring to the Sixers, I worried about his maximum potential in the NBA. Mikal is a proven shooter, but he is very limited offensively as he lacks the ability to take defenders off the dribble and make dynamic plays on his own. He turns 22 years old in August, so while I see Mikal as an important role player, I worry about his ceiling as a prospect.

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Zhaire Smith may be the polar opposite, as far as wing prospects go. Mikal Bridges is the safe play; a guy you know can shoot at a high level and fit into a team construct defensively. Zhaire Smith is a bouncy 6-foot-4 guard who may be the most freakish athlete in the draft, and he plays like he’s 6-foot-7. The disclaimer on Zhaire is his suspect shooting. While Zhaire shot 45 percent from three-point range, he only attempted 40 threes the entire season.

I had Mikal ranked ninth and Zhaire at 10th on my general big board, solely because I believe in Mikal’s floor as a role player. If the Sixers are legitimately “star-hunting” as Brett Brown alluded to in his press conference, Zhaire Smith is the right guy to bet on.

Zhaire has defended every position at some point during his freshman season. He came into Texas Tech as an 18-year-old guard who didn’t have a place in the Red Raiders’ already-loaded backcourt. So Zhaire played the four for most of the season, and he instantly thrived.

He was asked to adjust to a role that most freshmen guards would fail at. Instead, he used his top-tier strength and athleticism to make an incredible impact on Texas Tech. He finished with a Box-Plus-Minus of 12.0 and a block rate of 4.8 percent. He is clearly a unique prospect.

Here is an excerpt from the draft profile I wrote in May:

"Smith did showcase his undeniably elite athleticism. When Zhaire is near the rim, he doesn’t even need a step to get his head above the rim. Most players would need a running start to come close to Smith’s vertical. He is an effortless leaper from a standstill position, which is extremely rare. He placed in the top four at the NBA Draft Combine in Standing Vertical Leap, Max Vertical Leap, and Three Quarter Sprint.If the Sixers are looking to roll the dice on a high-upside prospect, Zhaire is a truly unique talent that has defensive superstar potential. It would only be fitting for Philadelphia to swing for the fences with the 10th pick, as this is the last lottery pick stashed from the Sam Hinkie era."

Zhaire is a project, I would never deny that, but prospects with his type of athleticism and basketball I.Q. don’t appear often. The Sixers see him as a potential star, which is easy to see when you watch his on-ball defense. For anyone unfamiliar with Zhaire’s game and how he contributes to winning basketball, I’d urge you to watch the Texas Tech-Florida game from the second round of the NCAA tournament. That should give you an idea of everything Zhaire can do.

On top of all of Zhaire’s tantalizing potential, the Sixers front office was able to bring home an Unprotected 2021 Miami first round pick (did I say UNPROTECTED?). If Mikal was their “1A” and Zhaire was their “1B”, this trade is an easy win from a value perspective.

Unprotected first round picks are rarely thrown around like this. Adding a lottery-caliber prospect in Zhaire while acquiring a valuable future asset feels like an enormous win. That pick could really come in handy in a potential trade for an established star, maybe even Kawhi Leonard.

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If you feel heart-broken and betrayed from the Sixers teasing us with Mikal, I understand. But wounds heal, and when you see Zhaire ending some poor man’s career with a vicious slam in summer league, I think you’ll change your tune.