8. Zhaire Smith
When you put it into perspective, expectations are strangely high for Zhaire Smith. He spent all but six games of last season in rehab, first with a broken foot and then with a life-threatening allergy. After Summer League, he didn’t even get the 2018 summer to train.
But, despite this summer being his first extended chance to prepare for NBA basketball, Smith falls at No. 8 on our list. People expect him to contribute, and there’s reason to believe the former 16th overall pick can do so.
In Vegas, Smith unleashed a vastly improved skill set. His 3-point stroke still needs work, but it’s quicker and more confident. He also attacked closeouts, using an explosive first step to torch defenders and finish inside. If Smith can continue to tighten his handle and create dribble penetration, his ceiling rises a considerable amount.
Smith is a one percent athlete. The ease with which he leaves the ground, even after a foot injury, is wholly unique. Even at 6-foot-4, he’s an impactful rebounder because of it. It also creates the opportunity for highlight-reel dunks and emphatic chase-down blocks.
Next to Simmons and Horford, Smith will backdoor cut into lobs with regularity. He’s a genuine speedster on the wing, and has the raw athleticism to overwhelm even larger opponents. It’s his (lack of a) handle that has limited his production in the past.
There’s still a lot for Smith to prove, but a workable spot-up 3 and the ability to attack closeouts with moderate success would all but ensure his place in the rotation. It also helps that he’s Philadelphia’s best on-ball perimeter defender outside Josh Richardson.