**I was attempting to get a film study of Zhaire Smith from Texas Tech’s game against Iowa State on January 20th, 2018. However, my piece-o-sh*t laptop makes this a long, arduous process. Nonetheless, I’d like to get some things up. So this shall serve as a running stream of the film study.
In the clip below, you can catch Zhaire Smith defending Cameron Lard, #2 on Iowa State.
Let me set the stage: Zhaire Smith started the game picking up the point-of-attack on just about every play defensively. Lard plays center and forward for Iowa State, standing at 6’9”. In this particular game, Lard was playing the 5, and he was killing Texas Tech at the start. He had something like 10 points in the first 4 minutes.
Smith hit the bench after his first shift of defending the point. After he gets a breather, the coach subs him back in to guard Lard. Remember, Lard was playing center and killing Texas Tech early on.
Zhaire immediately picks up Lard and fronts him in the lane. Smith holds his ground, staying compact and using his core to deny an opening for an entry pass. After Iowa State gives up on trying to get the ball inside to Lard, they look for a pick-and-roll. #23 is the ball handler for Iowa State, while Lard is the screener. Smith effectively switches on to #23 and cuts off his drive.
#23 then passes off, only the receive the ball back again at the break. Smith, though, never comes out to guard #23. Smith intuitively knows that his man won’t take the outside shot. Not only does that action demonstrate Zhaire’s defensive awareness, but there’s more. Zhaire drops his body back on to Lard. This keeps Lard from being able to screen Zhaire, and Zhaire is able to cut off #23’s second attempt at a drive, forcing a bad shot. Iowa State would go on to get a flukey bucket, but Smith’s defensive was relentless and just plain smart.
Cutting Off Ball
Zhaire makes a lot of his impact off the ball. In particular, he’s always moving and cutting toward space. The shame of it all, is that he wasn’t playing with a facilitator at Texas Tech that made the most of Smith’s cutting. I can confidently say that Smith has missed out on at least 6 points in the first 10 minutes of this game alone, because a teammate missed Smith’s cut.
In the following clip, you’ll see Zhaire draw his man out and then just straight burn him to the basket.
Smith is COMPLETELY WIDE OPEN UNDER THE RIM. But his teammate never gets it to him! The point guard sees Smith, but the point doubts his ability to make the pass. Now imagine 6’10” Ben Simmons, who basically has a crystal ball as far as intuition goes, running the point on that play. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.
Now, NBA defenders are much more aware (and athletic) than college defenders. But this is just one example of Smith’s opportunistic tendencies. It is all. the. time.
Zhaire has a lot of range defensively, using his quick feet to cover ground. The problem, though, at least in the following clip, is that he relies on his athleticism to overcompensate. The result is that Smith is out of control when closing out.
The following play is pretty impressive (range wise) up until the closeout:
Smith collapses down into the lane to help his center out. As the opposing center kicks the ball back out, Smith fails to identify the rotation. And at first, it’s okay, because Smith has the speed to get out to the corner to cut off the open man. But Zhaire is a bit out of control, tripping over his assignment. The whole thing was funky looking. There was no need to attack that aggressively: Smith’s man never actually even looks to shoot, he fakes a pass. Had Smith either a) recognized the need to rotate OR b) was more collected in his approach, the bucket doesn’t happen.
In the next clip, Smith again has an odd closeout strategy:
We see Zhaire get tagged with a good screen. He’s a bit slow to recover, and it leaves his teammate in no man’s land. The whole thing was a miscommunication of sorts. But check out the angle Smith takes when he finally does reach his man. Again, there was obviously mixed signals with his teammate, so Smith couldn’t really get in front of his man. But the whole effort in getting out there was pretty pointless for Zhaire: his man blows right by Smith and Smith looks like he’s on ice skates.