In a new edition of Prospect Breakdown, another wing prospect is being examined: Zhaire Smith, one of the youngest players in the draft, who possesses elite athleticism and flashed lots of potential in his lone season at Texas Tech. He is one of the more unique prospects in this draft, as he is thought by many to have one of the highest upsides in the class, but also one of the lowest floors, making him potentially a big gamble for whoever selects him.
Smith is a tricky fit with the Sixers offensively. He is a supreme athlete who is strong, which has helped him become an above-average finisher at the rim. He has a very high motor, never taking plays off. His off-ball cutting and finishing abilities make him seem like a good fit for an offense built around the passing of Ben Simmons. But his shot is a major concern. While he did make 45 percent of his three-pointers in his freshman year, he only took 1.1 attempts from beyond the arc per game, and shot just 71.7 percent from the free throw line, not a great number for a guard. While his shooting form seems far from broken (although it is a bit slow), and pre-draft workout videos have been encouraging, his lack of attempts is alarming. If the shot never truly comes along, it will be difficult to slot him in as a major contributor next to Simmons in the long-term. But if it does, the Sixers will have yet another young player with All-Star potential.
The defensive end is where Zhaire Smith made himself a projected lottery pick. His length (6’9.75” wingspan), athleticism and high basketball IQ turned him into an elite defender against multiple possessions in college, as he led all guards who played at least 600 minutes last season in Defensive Box Plus-Minus. He guarded lead ball-handlers, wings and even occasionally bigs at Texas Tech, averaging 1.1 steals and blocks per game. His aforementioned combination of length, athleticism and awareness will allow him to be among the best shot-blocking guards as soon as he enters the NBA. Put Smith with Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Robert Covington and you can just forget about the fifth guy. That group could defend four-on-five and be one of the best defenses in the league.
Smith would help fill a hole the Sixers are desperate to fix: wing defense. While he does need to bulk up a bit, he should be able to take on pretty much any perimeter player the Sixers are up against. He would give the Sixers a second elite wing defender to go with Robert Covington, and get the chance play in front of future Defensive Player of the Year Joel Embiid. On offense, though, he is somewhat of a risk- because again, it all comes down to the jump-shot. He will be a fine offensive player, but for the Sixers, shooting is by far the most important quality for a wing on either end, and he is currently a liability in that department.
Smith is a bit of a wild-card, as he could seemingly go anywhere from the middle of the lottery to the late teens. But barring a trade-down, the only place the Sixers could get him is with the tenth pick, as he won’t be available when the 26th pick comes around. There is no doubt that Smith’s questionable fit offensively makes him a very risky pick, especially this early. But if Bryan Colangelo and company believe so strongly in Smith’s talent level and upside that they decide it’s worth the risk, they will take him with no hesitation. One thing is clear, though: if Bryan Colangelo really does want Zhaire Smith with the tenth pick, the Sixers need to have complete confidence in their ability to help him develop into a good three-point shooter. It is his swing skill- the difference between him becoming a contributing role player and becoming a high-level starter on a championship team. Let’s hope that for once, the Sixers can properly diagnose a 19-year old’s shooting ability.