Thursday’s NBA Draft presented the Philadelphia 76ers with a golden opportunity to add contributing prospects to their young core centered around Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz. In lieu of an established general manager, head coach Brett Brown assumed managerial duties. Pressed into action, having to navigate the draft in a foreign role, Brown successfully brought in a haul of talent while executing a bold trade-down to acquire one of his desired prospects and an unprotected draft pick.
Thursday’s draft ended with potentially three young contributors at the guard position to complement Philadelphia’s core of young talent and a coveted future draft pick that could play multiple roles as an esteemed asset. Friday, at the team’s practice facility in Camden N.J., Brett Brown introduced his two first-round acquisitions: Texas Tech freshman Zhaire Smith and Wichita State junior Landry Shamet.
When discussing what he valued in incoming talent, intangibles were a huge factor.
“We sort of look at the values that were most important to us as we decided to grow this team and select our players,” Brown said. “There was none more important than just good people and character.”
Personality functioned as one of Brown’s main evaluation points, and he also kept in mind both Smith and Shamet’s development path plus how he envisioned them helping the team down the road. Brown then highlighted his organization’s technology and training facility that’ll help cultivate the Sixers’ young talent, including their new acquisitions.
Smith and Shamet worked out for Philadelphia prior to Thursday’s draft and were immersed in the organization’s atmosphere beforehand, so both had familiarity with the environment. The Sixers’ head coach and current lead decision maker alluded to the “machinery” in the facility that allowed Philadelphia to study Smith’s shots, trajectories and misses. Smith left a major impression on the staff and Brett Brown beamed when talking about Philadelphia’s “1B” talent on his Thursday Big Board.
“If he is anything, he’s an A-plus athlete and I’ve already explained to you about the character. Then you take that defensive toughness in the city of Philadelphia and so you say, ‘Wow, that also can translate into a reliable to good to very good three-point shooter and can play off a live ball. That’s a modern-day NBA player.’ As we studied his shot, and we really studied his shot, it’s pointing in the direction that it needs to. Because of his physical gifts, he’s been used to playing a lot as an interior player. He’s so athletic and he’s long. Now, all of a sudden, we’re going to take that and we’re going to grow it into an NBA perimeter player. Nowadays, you better be able to shoot it or that’s not really a modern-day NBA perimeter player. We just felt like the whole package equaled...this is a heck of a draft pick.”
Brett Brown alluded to T.J. McConnell, Dario Saric and Robert Covington as testaments of shooting development and a model that Smith can mimic as a Sixer. Despite being green in the shooting department, Smith’s form and mechanics appear clean when watching his Texas Tech tape. He shot 18 for 40 (45.0 percent) from deep and 72.8 percent from the line, per Hoop-Math, but still could refine his approach prior to his professional debut. Under Brown’s tutelage, Smith could see incremental growth.
Smith’s ascension to a top-10 value is an incredibly unique story. He ranked 223rd in RSCI (Recruiting Services Consensus Index) for the 2017 high school class prior to attending Texas Tech. In his lone season for the Red Raiders, Smith combined his top-shelf athleticism with his two-way skill level to wow fans and attract scouts. At 19 years old, the 6’4” shooting guard became a Brett Brown priority and Smith is just getting started.
“It just shows that rankings don’t mean anything,” Smith said. “I spent hours in the gym working hard and hard work paid off. I’m just truly blessed to be in this position.”
Diligent time spent working on skills to pair with a 6’4”, 199-pound athletic build that’ll invoke Sixers memories of Julius Erving for Sixers fans, Smith is primed to leverage his athleticism into two-way production. Brown said he won’t rush the 19-year-old Smith into action, but wants to expedite Smith’s development to where he’s comfortable in an NBA setting.
Smith will already be a defensive force with his blend of athleticism, length (6’9” wingspan), lateral mobility and motor who can feasibly guard the PG, SG, and SF positions with success. With a balanced physical and defensive arsenal, Smith’s ability to contribute immediately defensively is a huge boon for a defense rushed off the court against Boston last season. Smith is primed to contribute and in a winning environment, he could be an essential addition to the team’s young core.
To get a real gauge on how athletic Smith is, The Stepien’s Jackson Hoy put it succinctly perfect in our Q&A on the potential No. 10 pick selections:
“Zhaire Smith is 6-foot-4 and can jump so high that a lot of the time he dunks on the way down. I’m not sure there’s a better way to describe it.”
Picture the team’s commercial entertainment with the dunkers on trampolines. Zhaire Smith is as close as it’s going to get as far as in-game aerial wizardry. Smith is the marquee athlete among the 2018 draft class, and his highlight reel shows a compilation of nonsensical dunks that defy physics.
Smith’s slashing, finishing and off-ball presence provides Ben Simmons with a highflying partner absent in the Sixers’ backcourt last season. While struggling to create off the dribble and score effectively, Smith’s potential as a two-way menace and acrobatic wing are already present. If he can gradually develop his offensive skill package, Zhaire Smith will not only be one of the league’s most exciting talents but also important ones to a championship roster.
While Smith projects as an immediate POA defender whose highflying capabilities mesh with other viable facilitators like Ben Simmons and T.J. McConnell, fellow first-round pick Landry Shamet is another breed of guard who’s offensively adept (130.0 or higher offensive rating in each season, 14.9 PPG in 2017-18 season).
Shamet is a 21-year-old 6’5” combo guard out of Wichita State whose three-level scoring stood out in his sophomore year for the Shockers. Per Hoop-Math, Shamet shot 44.2 percent from three, 82.5 percent at the line and 71.0 percent at the rim. He’s incredibly calculated while handling the ball and can play the point guard role in a pinch when asked to. Shamet posted a 5.2 APG mark during his junior campaign, which ranked first in the American Athletic Conference. Shamet’s versatility at Wichita State allowed him to become one of the most creative offensive talents in the nation, but now he’s trying to fit in the Sixers’ rotation in a more limited duty.
“[During] my career at Wichita State, I proved over time that I could play multiple roles and do different things for a team to win. Starting early as my first year I was playing with Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet—two guys who are good players in the NBA. We’re obviously good at Wichita State so my role was a lot different than it was last year or the year before. Now I’m not the best player on my team so coming in, finding a niche and being comfortable there is job No. 1 and making sure I’m doing something that’s helping the team in winning.”
Shamet’s ability to catch-and-shoot and shoot off the dribble are some of his most valuable traits. He uses a slight dip when he catches the ball to set up for a quick release and he can get his shot up within milliseconds. Despite the Sixers missing out on Trae Young, Shamet provides a similar blend of shooting, scoring off the dribble and facilitating that could benefit a team bereft with creators at the wing last year. He’s also eager to play alongside the team’s premier offensive talents in his rookie season.
Shamet sports a slender 188-pound frame that can be a defensive hindrance at times, but Brett Brown addressed getting his new combo guard acclimated towards playing consistent defense. Shamet is adamant about being a combo guard, inevitably offering essential versatility off the bench this season, and he’ll play in his dual guard roles when needed in offensive sets.
Shamet’s fit with Simmons and Fultz makes for a dynamically offensive backcourt and the Wichita State guard believes he can competently fill an off-ball role.
“I know how to play without the ball,” Shamet said. “I think that’s a strength of mine, honestly. I didn’t get to show it a ton at Wichita State because I had to facilitate and be our point guard. Playing without the ball, cutting, making the right reads, just making the right play all of the time—that’s what I try to do.”
Coming from Gregg Marshall’s program at Wichita State, Shamet is very receptive to advice and guidance. He’s eager for Brett Brown to mentor him. Playing against tough competition in a basketball-oriented program also seasoned Shamet for an 82-game annual schedule. While SMU guard and second-round pick Shake Milton didn’t attend Friday’s event, Shamet spoke about facing Milton during an AAC matchup and came away impressed.
“He went off against us at home. It’s exciting knowing a familiar face coming in.”
Shamet attended last night’s draft in Brooklyn, NY, and when Adam Silver called his name with the No. 26 pick he finally accomplished his lifelong aspiration.
“It’s a dream come true. Being there with my family, it’s something that i’m never going to forget. Honestly, I was talking last night. I said, ‘I wish I could go back and relive that for whenever I wanted.’ It was just great. [It was] super exciting to hear my name called and spend time with people I love for the rest of the night.”
Shamet and Smith will likely play for Philadelphia in their Summer League stretch in Las Vegas but there’s also some hype surrounding another Thursday night addition. Brett Brown gushed over acquiring Miami’s 2021 first-round pick Friday, as if he received some newfound magical power.
Its upside as a quantum value asset in a potential superstar deal cannot be overstated and for a team willing to part with a stud in order to receive a gem of a pick, it’s primetime for lobbing the resource to tempted organizations.
“I’m here to win a championship,” Brett Brown adamantly said. “We are star hunting and star developing. You’re not going to win a championship any other way. For us not to know that or admit that would be kind of naive and in my opinion wrong. So to have that unprotected first-round draft pick, it’s gold. To be able use that to instigate a trade is gold. You need assets to do that, if you’re going to trade for a star. That’s the process. I explained last night and I’ll probably explain all summer and while I’m here...that was one of the most difficult things personally that I have ever gone through. You always have to do what is best for the organization. How do you win a championship? And that’s how we arrived at the decision.”
Brown hinting at featuring both the star hunting and star developing might suggest that Smith might not be featured in any type of superstar trade. He portrayed this glowing confidence when touching upon Smith’s strengths and his upside. Smith is a dynamic addition to a nucleus featuring All-Star Joel Embiid, ROY frontrunner Ben Simmons, and emerging guard Markelle Fultz while Shamet reminds me of a younger Jordan Clarkson in his heyday. “1B” looks like he’s here to stay and play some entertaining basketball for a team upward trending into a title contender.