While we have yet to see him, Zhaire Smith can slowly become the Sixers’ missing piece. His development will be very important going forward.
The Philadelphia 76ers season has had quite a bit of news and excitement surrounding it. After all, the team made two franchise changing moves in acquiring stars with Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris.
While those two players will definitely win you games now, it is important to remember that there is also a long view that should be focused on. Zhaire Smith is the focal point of that said view.
Recently, head coach Brett Brown came out and told the media that he doesn’t plan on Zhaire Smith being in the regular rotation for this season due to recovering from his foot injury and allergic reaction.
While Smith may not be a focal point this season, as was previously hoped for here at PFO, his development as a player will be vastly important to the franchise going forward.
Where Zhaire Smith fits into the Sixers’ plan:
We’ve seen a series of highs and lows with this team. The Sixers have beaten really good teams, such as the Golden State Warriors (at home), Houston Rockets, and more.
Unfortunately, the franchise has struggled against the likes of the elite teams in the Eastern Conference. The Sixers are currently 1-7 against the Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors, and Milwaukee Bucks.
The main reason behind that ugly record is that these teams pick apart the Sixers’ defense, mainly with JJ Redick.
Redick is a below average defender, just based on physical traits alone. It makes sense that teams pick on him, as scoring against the likes of Ben Simmons, Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris, or Joel Embiid is probably very challenging.
The Sixers will eventually need to make a change to address that glaring weakness. Redick is a valuable player to the Sixers, regardless of defensive issues. So how can the team fix this problem?
Look no further than Zhaire Smith.
While Zhaire Smith is relatively young and somewhat raw, he can instantly provide perimeter defense and athleticism into the lineup.
Redick could benefit from Zhaire Smith starting, as he could take on a bench role and solely focus on what he’s good at: shooting the ball at a high clip.
The team could start Zhaire with the starters and get him used to playing with the main pieces on the team. If the team needed more floor spacing, they could opt to use Redick off the bench. If the team needed more defense, you could use Smith.
With Zhaire’s reported incredible work ethic, there’s no doubt he’s been working on his game during the time he’s rehabbed from his injuries. If he can be at least an average shooter (around 37%), he can be very valuable in addressing these said weaknesses.
Recently, I got a chance to see Zhaire run through some shooting drills up close. His jumper looked vastly improved:
What can Zhaire Smith become as a player?
This is a hard question to answer as we haven’t seen him in an NBA game of any kind yet (which will hopefully change soon).
After last year’s draft, Brett Brown compared him to Kawhi Leonard when he first came into the league. Leonard is a game-changing talent, and it’s not fair to put those expectations on a young player.
That being said, I think Zhaire Smith can develop into a really good player. A name that comes to mind for me, personally, is Avery Bradley (when he was on the Celtics).
Bradley developed into a coveted “3&D” player while with Boston. He was known for being a terrific defender, and shooting the ball at a great clip.
Smith is much taller than Bradley (Smith being 6’5″, Bradley being 6’2″), and much more athletic. To say Zhaire Smith can be better than Avery Bradley with time isn’t unrealistic.
Overall, I see Zhaire becoming a shooting guard in the majority of his playing time. He’s a versatile player, and you should also be able to play him at either forward spots in small lineups.
We still have the rest of this season and playoffs to go before the Sixers will have to evaluate where they stand in the Eastern Conference.
If the playoffs are anything like the regular season, the team will need to make a change to adapt and address their weaknesses going forward.
While some fans may call for a trade of some kind, the team may not need that at all. In fact, the answer may already be on the roster with Zhaire Smith.
After going through what he has gone through in his rookie year, rooting for Smith will be easy and enjoyable. Watching him develop into the player he’s meant to be will be even better.