Oozing optimism for Philadelphia 76ers’ Zhaire Smith

Zhaire Smith | Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Zhaire Smith | Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images) /

The Philadelphia 76ers’ 10th pick in the 2018 NBA Draft , Mikal Bridges, was flipped for the Phoenix Suns’ 16th overall pick Zhaire Smith.

Zhaire Smith joined the Philadelphia 76ers‘ infamous laundry list of rookies that suffered season altering injuries following an apparent “Jones fracture of the fifth metatarsal in his left foot,” according to Sixers’ Vice President of athlete care, Dr. Daniel Medina. An allergic reaction which led to a thoracoscopy for the 19-year-old Smith further prolonged his return to the basketball court. Unfortunately, Smith’s presumed impact is engulfed by uncertainty, but the 6-foot-4 guard is oozing with potential.

Smith, yet to record a professional statistic due to a few setbacks, last participated in the Sixers’ 2018 summer league camp. It was during his tenure in the Las Vegas Summer League where Smith put together an intriguing showcase of his skill set.

In 148 minutes, Smith attempted 53 field goals, and 15 of them were three-point attempts. Smith only made 17 attempts from the field and registered only three makes from outside of the perimeter. Through six games, Smith scored 46 points, collected 14 rebounds, and complied together 16 assists. The athletic guard could not amass more than 10 steals and blocks combined, though. Smith, however, showcased his range and awareness defensively, his ability to hedge screens well, court vision as a passer, and offensive fearlessness.

Smith’s statistical output through six games within the Summer League are a poor indicator of his potential. Rather, the flares of awareness and athleticism Smith displayed in the summer and hundreds of reps recently documented on Twitter best represent his potential outlook with Philadelphia.

His coordination and athleticism are incredibly impressive for a 19-year-old, which he displayed at the 2018 NBA Draft Combine. Smith jumped 41.5 inches on his vertical leap, the fourth highest among qualifying draft prospects. Additionally, Smith’s wingspan measured nearly 6-feet-10, which is greater than fellow 6-foot-4 guards Jrue Holiday (6-feet-7) and Victor Oladipo (6-feet-9).

Smith’s body of work at Texas Tech is further indicative of his athleticism and basketball capabilities. Smith concluded his freshman year  the first Texas Tech player in program history to make the 2017-18 USBWA All-District 7 First Team, set the freshman record for total points in one season, and most notably received 2017-18 All-Big 12 Defensive Team honors.

In over 35 games, Smith posted a field goal percentage of 55.6 percent, nailed 45.0 percent of his three-point attempts and tallied 5.6 win shares (3.3 offensive and 2.2 defensive) all with a usage percentage south of 20.0 percent. On an isolation possession basis, the defensive anchor that Smith is, allowed just 0.444 points, good for the 92nd percentile. Smith’s defensive rating of 94.6 was one of the best in the nation among qualifying guards in his only collegiate season.

Smith is an irritant defensively and on offense, a strong and occasionally flashy passer. Although his jump-shot is off centered and the release is lengthy,  the Sixers’ staff is working towards its’ improvement. All throughout February, videos surfaced from within the Sixers’ practice facility displaying Smith’s shooting development.

Although the mechanics and trajectory of his jump-shot have been slightly altered since his Texas Tech days, he can add offensive production regardless. Smith finishes his shots within the pain incredibly often, best exemplified by his 59.9 percent field goal percentage and 1.179 points per shot attempt around the rim as a Red Raider.

Smith’s renowned motor keeps him on his toes at all times of the basketball game, constantly cutting backdoor, setting on/off ball screens, infiltrating defenses by way of the baseline, and ferociously filling the lane for offensive rebounds. Of Smith’s 185 total rebounds in college, 83 came offensively, and he collected just 19 more defensively.

Smith scored his most points per possession in transition, followed by cuts to the basket and put backs. Smith is both deceptive with his pump fakes and strong enough to muscle his way to the basket, and consistently makes good decisions.

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Smith will not be forced nor expected to offensively dominate for the Philadelphia 76ers (top-10 in almost every statistical category) and his age implies he has plenty of years to further improve. 76ers’ Smith is stout defensively and fans’ excitement should be radiating for the human highlight reel.