Max Lefevre is the Director of Player Development for Texas Tech’s men’s basketball program, where he coached Zhaire Smith. Before joining the Red Raiders’ coaching staff, Lefevre was a Graduate Assistant at Angelo State (2013-2015) and the Director of Basketball Operations at Little Rock (2015-2016). Lefevre played college ball at Avila University in Kansas City, MO. Coach Lefevre was kind enough to join me for a Q&A regarding the Sixers’ Zhaire Smith.
Kevin F. Love: What kind of competitor did the Sixers get in Zhaire?
Max Lefevre: Second to none. When we first started practicing, he was on the white team (2nd team). The black team had 5 seniors on it. White team would win almost every drill because he just competed at such a high level everyday at practice.
KFL: Why do you think someone who is clearly, incredibly athletic like Zhaire wasn’t more highly recruited? And what was it about Zhaire that Texas Tech decided to pursue him?
ML: I think a lot has to do with him playing the 4 in high school. People didn’t see him handle the ball or shoot the ball much and thought he’d be a great mid-major undersized 4. When he first got on campus, he was one of our best shooters. He just wasn’t able to show it.
KFL: Zhaire’s first 15 games saw him coming off the bench at about 23 minutes per game. However, over the final 22 games, Zhaire started in all but one and averaged almost 32 minutes per game. How was he able to make such a significant climb in the rotation?
ML: He just kept getting better and better because he was in the gym all the time. Zach Smith got hurt and it was an easy transition. He took the opportunity and ran with it.
KFL: Zhaire connected on just 5 of his first 18 3PA (27.7%). He would significantly improve over his next 22 attempts, shooting 59.1% from 3PT. Did something change with his shot from distance, or was it just a matter of increased sample size? Can he be an effective 3PT threat from day 1 in the NBA?
ML: From day 1, we were surprised by how well he shot it. And then he kept working at it. Early, he just wouldn’t shoot the ball from 3 because he played more around the basket. But as the season went on, he ended on the perimeter a lot more, and got put in position to shoot 3’s.
KFL: Building a bit on that last question, how has Zhaire’s jumper progressed from the time he got to Texas Tech to now?
ML: It was good when he came in. It was a surprise to everyone. On top of everything we do, he’ll come back [to the gym] and shoot on his own every night, and it paid off.
KFL: Zhaire’s defensive IQ is impressive in the film I’ve seen. Was that something Zhaire learned over the course of the season at Texas Tech or something he had demonstrated since his high school tape?
ML: I think he is a smart player and he’s got good feel. We’ve helped him with the positioning but the instincts and the athleticism, that’s all him.
KFL: Zhaire played a lot of forward at Texas Tech. What’s the biggest challenge for Smith in becoming an NBA guard? Is he an NBA guard or a forward?
ML: I think he will end up being an NBA guard. He still got ways to grow with his skill set but with his work ethic, I just don’t see how he wouldn’t turn into a guard.
KFL: How do you think Zhaire will fare in defending NBA wings?
ML: I think he can guard 1 through 3 in the NBA without a problem. He is strong, freaky athletic, competitor, and he takes pride in it. I think he has a chance to be special on the defensive end.
KFL: Last question: Do you have any insight into what kind of locker room presence Zhaire is?
ML: He is a quiet kid at first but he does have a personality once he warms up. He is the type of guy that everyone in the locker room will like.
Shout out to Max Lefevre for spending time answering my questions. You can follow him on Twitter @CoachLefevre. Thanks again to Coach Max Lefevre!