Zhaire Smith, 6’4″, Texas Tech
2017/18 Season Review
Zhaire Smith entered the 2017-18 season as an unheralded three-star recruit. He was glossed over by the blue bloods, and was largely recruited by low-majors until his senior year of high school, when Texas Tech offered him. Smith entered his freshman year at Tech with the expectation of playing around ten minutes a game off of the bench, and to focus on developing his game. The thought of Zhaire being a one-and-done wasn’t even a consideration.
Smith started the season off of the bench for Texas Tech, but immediately showed that he was much more developed than expected. Despite being limited offensively, Smith’s outstanding defense led to him becoming the team’s sixth man. A few games into conference play, and Smith was thrust into the starting lineup after he established himself as one of the most athletic players in the country. Smith quickly became one of the nation’s best college defenders, and he started to get NBA buzz.
Texas Tech did an excellent job of using Smith on the offensive end despite his limitations. Where Smith excelled the most was out in transition, which is a big part of why he was so appealing to the Sixers. Smith was a key cog in a Texas Tech team that made it all the way to the Elite Eight last season.
2018 Offseason Notables
Well, we all know about the trade. The Sixers were obviously interested in Smith throughout the pre-draft process, but the team initially opted for Mikal Bridges and his readiness to play right away. When Smith fell, the Sixers called the Suns in hopes of moving up for him. The Suns happened to love Bridges and had a very valuable unprotected future draft pick. The rest is history.
Smith played in Summer League and was as advertised. His offensive limitations were clear, but his athleticism and defense were off the charts. He also showed off an impressive array of passing skills.
Of course, later in the summer Zhaire would suffer the dreaded Jones fracture in his left foot. This was a very disappointing injury because Smith could help the Sixers right away, as I’ll get to later in the article. Luckily, Smith should only miss the first quarter of the season. Earlier this week, Smith had a thoracoscopy after having an allergic reaction to a food product. It was an odd end to the summer.
Areas of Improvement
As exciting as Zhaire is as a prospect, he is still very raw on the offensive end. Currently, Smith isn’t great at putting the ball on the floor and isn’t a very good shooter. He struggles to create for himself and is best served off-ball.
Smith looks very uncomfortable and indecisive when isolated with the ball.
Smith’s ball handling left much to be desired during his time in Lubbock. When he put the ball on the floor, it often didn’t end well.
Zhaire is very loose with his dribble. He needs to tighten it up in the NBA or else he will be a turnover machine whenever he puts the ball on the floor.
It’s clear where Smith needs to improve. And fortunately, they are all fixable – especially Smith’s jumpshot. The vast majority of Smith’s 3s were wide open, and he was hesitant to shoot them. But this doesn’t look at all like a broken jumper.
Smith’s shot showed promise, and just needs a little tweaking. It wouldn’t be at all surprising if Smith ended up being a good shooter later in his career. This isn’t a Ben Simmons situation. His shot is 90% there, and I’m confident that Brett Brown and the Sixers coaching staff will unlock the remaining 10%.
Areas of Strength
Perhaps Zhaire’s strongest attribute is his athleticism. Smith had a 41.5 inch vertical at the combine, which was third among rookies. And it’s clear when watching Smith get out in transition. When he gets open space, look out. He’s going to posterize some defenders this season. We all saw Smith’s unbelievable 360 alley-oop dunk against Stephen F. Austin in the tournament.
Imagine Ben Simmons and Zhaire in transition.
Zhaire also excelled as an offensive slasher. Smith had one of the highest motors of any player in the country, and if a defender didn’t box out, he made them pay. Zhaire never gives up on a play.
Zhaire put his fair share of defenders on posters during his only season at Texas Tech.
Put a body on Smith or else.
Smith’s biggest impact last season was on the defensive side on the ball. He quickly established himself as one of the best defenders in the country despite his young age and being undersized. Smith guarded one through four in college and was typically tasked with guarding the opponent’s best player. Here he is hounding Jalen Brunson, the Naismith Player of the Year last season.
Zhaire also gave top five pick Trae Young fits in their matchup last season.
You get the idea. Zhaire was a lockdown defender last season, and he has the potential to be one in the NBA. Zhaire never gave up on any plays defensively, just like on the offensive side of the ball.
Between the duo of Zhaire and Markelle Fultz, opposing players are never going to be comfortable when in transition against the Sixers.
If you are going to go into the paint against Zhaire, you better go up strong. Because if you don’t, he will let you know.
Another area where Zhaire excelled were closeouts. Smith turned open shots into contested shots in the blink of an eye. He makes it extremely difficult for his opponents to get off a clean look. A remarkable rotation here results in Smith blocking what looked to be a wide open 3.
Zhaire turns this wide open three into a heavily contested one in an instant. There’s no hesitation from the shooter, Zhaire just was that quick.
This is just an incredibly recovery by Zhaire.
2018-19 Season Outlook
Obviously, Zhaire will miss the first part of the season as he continues to recover from his broken foot. Brett Brown has said that he expects Zhaire back at some point in December, barring setbacks (there will obviously be setbacks). Smith will be among the youngest players in the NBA this season. He will be 19 for the entirety of his rookie year, barring a Finals appearance. This will be important to remember as the season goes on. Expecting too much from him too soon is unrealistic and will likely leave you disappointed.
Regardless, Zhaire should play a role as soon as he gets healthy. His defense will be very valuable in short spurts. Depending on Markelle Fultz’s development, I’d expect Smith to get around ten minutes or so this season, at least to start. I’ll say some raw numbers of 4.6 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 2.4 APG, and 0.8 SPG. It’s unreasonable to think that he can play a significant role right away, so if he can get the aforementioned 10 minutes or so a game, we should be very happy with those numbers combined with solid defensive effort.
Wilson Chandler has a checkered injury history, which will make Zhaire’s presence even more important. In the event Chandler were to go down, the Sixers would be playing some combination of Furkan Korkmaz/Jerryd Bayless/Landry Shamet serious minutes. If Chandler goes down for an extended period of time before Smith returns, that would be scary for the Sixers.
Obviously, those last two paragraphs sound familiar. Only expected to play around ten minutes. Defense will be valuable but too raw to play significant minutes offensively. Will need an injury to be thrust into a serious role. Why does it sound so familiar? Because Texas Tech believed the same thing last season. Hopefully, Zhaire surprises again his rookie year.
Editor’s Note: Beginning September 27 and continuing up until the start of the season, we will be profiling each member of the current 76ers’ roster. Be sure to check out our schedule below and hear what our writers expect from our Sixers players.
|September 27||Jonah Bolden||October 8||Wilson Chandler|
|September 29||Shake Milton||October 10||JJ Redick|
|September 30||Zhaire Smith||October 11||Robert Covington|
|October 1||Furkan Korkmaz||October 13||Dario Saric|
|October 3||Amir Johnson||October 14||Markelle Fultz|
|October 4||Mike Muscala||October 15||Ben Simmons|
|October 6||Landry Shamet||October 16||Joel Embiid|
|October 7||TJ McConnell|