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Could Zhaire Smith be a Possible Fit with Sixers?

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Jackson Hoy of The Stepien joins Liberty Ballers to talk about draft prospect Zhaire Smith and his fit with the Sixers.

Stephen F. Austin v Texas Tech Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

With March Madness in full swing, NBA Draft talk is heating up. The Sixers are owed the Los Angeles Lakers’ pick if it lands at #1 or #6+. A player who could be available for the Sixers in the current range of the Lakers’ pick (10-12) is Texas Tech’s Zhaire Smith. Jackson Hoy (@JHoyNBA) of The Stepien & LockDraft, and host of the Hardwood Homies NBA Draft Podcast joined me to talk about the player’s game and his fit with the Sixers

Kevin F. Love: What are some basics about Zhaire Smith? What position does he figure to play in the NBA? How old will he be on draft night? What kind of athlete is he?

Jackson Hoy: Zhaire Smith stands at 6-foot-5 with a reported 6-foot-10 wingspan and weighs in at 195 pounds. He was the 223rd best player in the class of 2017 according to RSCI. At the next level, he projects as a shooting guard/small forward, but it’s not impossible that he ends up playing power forward for some stretches as well even given his underwhelming size for the position. He turns 19 on June 4, just a couple weeks before the draft. Smith might be the best athlete in the draft given his ability to explode with both power and grace. Chase-down blocks and put-back dunks are routine plays for him. He floats when he jumps and effortlessly bounces off the ground for second attempts near the rim.

KFL: What do Zhaire Smith’s strengths project to be in the NBA? Weaknesses? Can he defend?

JH: His strengths center around his athleticism, feel for the game, and defensive versatility. Smith’s outlier athleticism will make him a unique threat as an event creator on defense and as an offensive rebounder and cutter on offense. However, he’s not just an athletic freak. He reads the floor exceptionally well for a 6-foot-5 18-year-old, finding teammates with skip passes and passing up good looks for great ones. Look no further than his 7-assist, 1-turnover performance against Florida in the second round of the NCAA tournament for evidence of his decision-making ability. Smith will be extremely useful in hammer sets in the NBA thanks to his ability to find teammates. He can defend very well for a player of his age, though he isn’t flawless. He can get caught up on screens and his off-ball positioning and decision-making aren’t perfect, but he has guarded every type of player from Jevon Carter to Mohamed Bamba in man-to-man this season. His athleticism, motor, and feel give him an incredibly high defensive ceiling as long as he continues to add strength.

KFL: How mature is Smith as a player? Is he still raw and in need of development, or can he contribute at the NBA level right away?

JH: Skill-wise, he is going to need development. He isn’t comfortable handling in functional settings as he has to crouch over in order to protect his dribble and he doesn’t do much more than attack closeouts in a straight line with the ball in his hands in the half-court. He also will need to work on his three-point shot, as he doesn’t shoot much from outside for a wing player and his shot isn’t very fluid. That said, his smarts make up for a lot of the rawness in his skill level. Most hyper-athletes without much skill aren’t ready to play when they come into the league because they don’t know what to do, but I don’t know that that will be the case with Smith. He should be useful as a swiss-army-knife defender right away, and on offense, he can be a useful cutter, rebounder, and passer from day one.

KFL: What level player do you expect Smith to be? High rotation, starter, All-Star? What’s your best case scenario vs. worst case scenario?

JH: Smith’s median outcome, in my mind, is becoming a useful starter. He’ll add value in unorthodox ways–similar to a wing version of Marcus Smart–and therefore become an indispensable part of a good team. This median outcome requires some development as a jump-shooter and ball-handler, though he probably is still below-average in those two areas relative to NBA players at his positions. Best-case scenario, he becomes a threat from three-point range and diversifies his handle, becoming a two-way player in the mold of Victor Oladipo. Whatever his ceiling outcome looks like, it involves serious skill improvement and strength addition (something I think is relatively easy to project). Worse-case scenario, Smith’s defensive ability is overblown and he becomes a fringy energy guard who teams hope develops into a useful player but is kept around more for his athleticism and less for his utility. For this outcome to occur, it would mean that Smith’s defense at Texas Tech was overrated due to having excellent defensive players around him and that he failed to ever develop much skill level on offense.

KFL: Any player past or present you can compare Smith to?

JH: It’s tough to find a close comparison to Smith, but former Texas Tech wing Darvin Ham is a solid low-end comparison for him that my Stepien colleague Mike Gribanov made a while ago. In terms of a median outcome, Smith can be some iteration of Andre Roberson that is smaller and a better passer, but there are many differences between those two players. I already mentioned Victor Oladipo as a sort of ceiling outcome; I bring this up because as a sophomore at Indiana, Oladipo was very similar to the player Smith is now. If Smith develops the same way that Oladipo did, he could become a player like him.

KFL: Where is Smith on your personal big board? Are you higher or lower on him than most?

JH: Currently, I have Smith 9th on my personal big board, which is definitely higher than most. He’s slowly crept up for me as I’ve become more confident in his ability to improve going forward (he’s improved massively just over the course of this season) and less confident in some of the players in front of him. I have a hard time imagining that he’ll crack my top 8, but I’ll continue to evaluate where I have every guy in this class ranked as the draft approaches.

KFL: If the Lakers pick conveys to the Sixers in this summer’s upcoming draft, it’s likely to be in the 10-12 range. Let’s say the highest is 9, and the lowest is 13. Is Zhaire Smith someone the Sixers should consider? Does he fit with the team? Will he even be available when their pick comes around?

JH: I think Zhaire Smith is a great fit for the Sixers. I haven’t had the chance to follow the NBA too closely this season due to my intense focus on scouting for the draft, but I know that the Sixers need wing depth and I think Smith is the exact kind of wing that fits in well with what they have. Smith could be super useful as a point-of-attack defender in lineups where Ben Simmons plays point guard, and with a little more ball-handling development could serve as a secondary handler in such lineups, or as a tertiary handler if Markelle Fultz is playing. Fitting a poor shooter on the wing next to Ben Simmons will certainly be an issue, but Smith is a unique enough offensive player that I am confident he can make it work. He should be available in that 9-13 range; ESPN recently mocked him 16th to the Phoenix Suns and I think that few, if any, are as high on him as I am. Many teams will be scared off by his questionable shooting projection, which I think will keep on the board through the entire lottery.

KFL: Between Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, in addition to the impending return of Markelle Fultz, the Sixers figure to have a few high usage players. Can Zhaire Smith be impactful off the ball?

JH: Smith isn’t going to be impactful off the ball in traditional ways (at least not right away), but that doesn’t mean that he won’t be a useful off-ball offensive player. He is a serious threat as an offensive rebounder, able to sky in from all angles and put down ridiculous dunks, and he is also an active and willing screener. Smith is constantly working to help teammates spring open by setting screens off the ball, a reflection of his activity level and team-first mindset. His passing ability is also a plus; he is really great at finding the open man wherever he is on the court. Smith will also be a threat as a cutter given his ability to finish over the top of defenses. As his shot develops, he’ll only develop into more of an off-ball threat as help defenders will have to stick close to him, which will open up driving lanes.

Huge thanks to Jackson for chatting with me. Jackson and everyone over at The Stepien do really insightful work regarding NBA prospects and the draft. Jackson also writes on and host the Hardwood Homies NBA Draft Podcast. You should check his stuff out at on all outlets; The Stepien provides the best coverage of NBA prospects on in the internet. You won’t be disappointed. Jackson previously wrote an article on Zhaire Smith to get you started.

You can give Jackson a follow on Twitter @JHoyNBA for all his prospect coverage.