The Bridges Trade
After selecting Mikal Bridges 10th overall, Brett Brown would go on to rip the hearts out of many Philadelphians and trade Bridges to the Phoenix Suns for Zhaire Smith (selected 16th overall) and the Miami Heat’s 2021 first round pick, which is unprotected. A truly Hinkian move, I must say.
I started thinking it to myself a few days ago, and then within our Liberty Ballers slack chat and on Twitter: I was getting a bit worried Mikal Bridges was too safe of a pick. “What if Mikal Bridges isn’t that good? Is he the best talent on the board at 10?” I posited. I’m not saying Mikal won’t have a successful NBA career; quite the contrary. Bridges will be a fine NBA player. The Sixers would have left the draft with a guy who is almost surely a rotation player had they held onto Bridges. And with the Phoenix Suns, Bridges will get every opportunity to shine — maybe even become more than a role player. But it was a pretty uninspiring pick, in my opinion, given the the upside that was left on the board.
There is undoubtedly a contingent of Sixers fans forcefully opposed to this decision. “This isn’t the Process stage anymore” — I’ve already read it. How quickly a win steak can make you forget: the Process is never over. That doesn’t mean the Sixers go into next season trying to lose. And this isn’t some sort of Sam Hinkie fan fiction arousal piece. But it’s amazing to me that people can see the talent on this team — the f-ing treasure trove of talent this city has — and decide “Okay that was great, but let’s do something else now because we had a 52 win season and we need wings NOW to beat Boston.” It’s about giving yourself the most opportunities for sustained success, it’s NOT an attempt at kicking the can down the road.
Look, if you don’t see upside in Zhaire Smith, I get why you’re opposed to this trade. But if the Sixers really viewed Mikal and Zhaire as 1A and 1B, respectively, the trade was an absolute no-brainer. Imagine if I told you that you could have the New York strip, but that if you got the filet, the next meal is on me. The Sixers get their guy and pick up a future pick from a team financially bound to mediocrity until 2020.
I selected Zhaire Smith with the 10th pick in our Sixers mock off-season, so I think I’ve already made myself clear that I’m into him. Brett Brown sees a lot of Kawhi Leonard in Zhaire, apparently. I’m not going to reach that far, because for one, I don’t see Zhaire ever being the machine that makes the offense churn. Kawhi has become a terrific offensive option, a go-to scorer. I’m not sure Zhaire ever gets there. And Kawhi, in his prime, is one of the best defenders I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching. Just by the possibility percentage alone, it’s tough to imagine Smith reaches that level.
But Zhaire has tools. Real, athletic tools. I’ve seen and heard people call him a project. I think that’s off. There’s a significant difference between a project (very raw, unclear of their role) and a player who simply has significant room for growth. Zhaire is the later. He can contribute from day 1. As I’ve noted, he’s no go-to scorer, averaging just 11.3 points per game in his lone season at Texas Tech. But if you watch game film of Zhaire, he’s constantly, relentlessly, looking to set screens for teammates off the ball. I mean every possession, it seems, he is setting multiple picks. He soars over 6’8” forwards and near 7-foot centers to pull down or put back offensive rebounds. He’s directing teammates off the ball. Zhaire does not need the ball to contribute to this team right now. And defensively, he’s all over the floor. Just a dog, hounding the ball, picking up the point-of-attack with pleasure. Smith prides his game on his effort and intensity, and it shows. He wants to win, and he doesn’t care who gets the credit. Maybe most exciting, he’ll thrive in transition. Watching Ben Simmons, Zhaire Smith and Markelle Fultz get out and run, is going to be so, so much fun.
It’s possible the jumper never comes around for Smith, so there’s real concern about whether or not he actually reaches his ceiling. But if he’s able to become a consistent shooter, he could be an incredibly valuable player the Sixers.
I don’t think the Sixers got bad value here, but I don’t believe they’ve maximized value either. Shamet, who just finished up his junior year of college ball, has injury concerns, fracturing his foot in his freshmen season at Wichita. But he had solid seasons the past two years, serving as a combo guard.
The thing about selecting Shamet is that he’s a terrific shooter. He shot 43.7% from distance on over 5 3PA per game for his college career. And he connected on 81.1% of his free throws at Wichita State. I would imagine that the thinking here is that the Sixers could lose almost all of their shooters in free agency: JJ Redick, Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova hit the market in a handful of days. Shamet’s ability to play both backcourt positions allow him to play alongside either Simmons or Fultz, as someone who should be able to reliably hit shots.
I don’t think Shamet ever becomes anything more than a role player, but this league always has a spot for someone who can stroke the trey. Given the Sixers need for shooting, I like the pick, though I think there was better talent on the board.
The Sixers traded picks 56 and 60 to get Milton (pick 54), a player many believe has first round talent. This pick has tremendous value. Second round selections are hit-or-miss scenarios most of the time, so getting someone with Milton’s upside this late in the draft is the best you can hope for. It’s certainly a major question mark, though, that a guy who most draft experts had as a borderline first round talent fell this far.
Milton has great size for a guard, standing 6’5” with a, ahem, SEVEN FOOT WINGSPAN. That’s just freakish. Milton connected on 42.7% of his threes and 79.1% of his free throws in his 3-year college career. I think one knows where I’m heading: he’s got a 3-and-D type profile. He’s not the most creative player, so though he played a bit of point, he’s most likely an off-ball player in the NBA.
It’s a great shot to take on potential at #54.
I absolutely love what the Sixers did in this draft. Interim GM Brett Brown blew away my expectations. I was worried about his ability to wheel and deal, but he pulled off three trades on draft day. Brown scooped up three players I believe have a chance to contribute immediately, and two with considerable upside (Smith and Milton), all the while collecting assets for the future or a possible trade.
Overall grade: A