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Sixers’ Zhaire Smith continues shot development in preparation for Summer League

The newly-signed rookie is honing his jumper in minicamp prior to his first Summer League experience.

NCAA Basketball: Texas Tech at Iowa State Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

While guard Markelle Fultz recovers his jumper with help from ace shooting coach Drew Hanlen, rookie Zhaire Smith also is refining some mechanical features in his shot as well. The Sixers signed their 2018 first-round pick to a four-year deal that pays Smith “around $2.5 million in the upcoming season”, per’s Keith Pompey. Philadelphia acquired Smith in a draft-day trade with Phoenix and his shot development is an interesting storyline to monitor as he preps for Summer League.

Brett Brown denoted Smith as his “1B” player on draft night, and placing faith in his shot progression is a main indicator. I aggregated some of Smith’s shots during Philadelphia’s minicamp stretch prior to his Summer League debut against Boston Friday at 7:30 p.m. ET, which can be viewed on ESPN.

I unofficially tallied Smith shooting 25-for-55 uncontested from deep during his drills, which equates to a 45.4 percentage, but his misses were either short or off the back of the rim. He wasn’t spraying the ball left or right, but his misses coming from a straight trajectory breeds optimism.

Smith’s niche as an athletic two-way wing will illuminate on Friday but with a relatively slow release as a freshman at Texas Tech, the 19-year-old Smith is gradually tinkering with his approach prior to his debut. His release looks more accelerated compared to his tape at Texas Tech, as well. Smith began his drills using the ball handler as a passing outlet, running behind him and receiving the simulated dribble handoff.

Smith’s balance and gather are promising traits for such a green shooter, but here he shows a little bit of an exaggerated ball dip. The ball comes out clean and away from his head/face, Smith holds his form and generates some excellent wrist snap that allows him to direct the ball. Brett Brown could implement Smith in these types of packages for Summer League reps in order to have him comfortable in DHOs.

Next, Smith jabs with his right foot to create separation and sets in the corner for the deep baseline three. His guide hand disengages as he releases the ball here, but he’s continually holding his release and he can shoot off movement. With his natural quicks and mobility, he can jab and create space this season to throw off defenders.

I wanted to illustrate Smith’s gather and motion when shooting off of screens plus off the dribble. This slow-motion video, below, portrays Smith curling off a screen and gathering himself for a catch-and-shoot three. He establishes himself by planting his left foot then using a hopstep to gather into his setup. Smith wasn’t flawless off the dribble but given his repeatable mechanics, motion and release point, he looked capable as a 19-year-old guard still incorporating new features into his jumper. Feel free to mute the video when it slows down.

Replicating the far side action, Smith uses a jabstep to create space in the corner and receives the feed. Smith’s timing and dip allow him to settle into his shot while his footwork and positioning are ideal for a high-percentage corner three attempt. A lot of Smith’s made jumpers were nothing but nylon, as his accuracy wasn’t an alarming issue Tuesday. Smith endured some difficulties in the simulated above the break pull-up drill, but given his profile offensively I don’t know if he’ll have consistent regular season opportunities in this particular element. However, Smith did sink a few looks when he gathered for a straightaway three.

This sequence, below, is one of my favorite actions of the afternoon. Smith fires a crisp off-hand kick-out pass, relocates and gathers into his three-point form. Smith doesn’t rush and when everything comes together, he fosters so much hope that he’ll morph into a reliable catch-and-shoot target.

The catch-and-shoot drill is a simple motion for shooters, and Smith looks very comfortable in this setting. With a quick dip, generating power from his legs into his arms and having his release point above and away from his head, he drills the three with precision. Ben Simmons and T.J. McConnell could definitely use a two-way athlete of Smith’s caliber and if the shot manifests in his rookie year, watch out.

Finally, Smith also highlighted his free throw setup. The rookie understands the importance of transferring power and energy from his legs to his arms during his gather and release. Maybe he’ll adjust his high release point to simplify his mechanics but, overall, Smith looked very competent from the line during practice.

Smith’s jump shot will be an important Summer League storyline as he preps for the regular season. Smith stated that he’s working on holding his follow-through and trying to use his legs more during his shot. He’s also not fazed by the extended shooting arc from college but understands how to leverage his powerful legs into greater distance on his shots.

“It’s a big adjustment because you have to use your legs more,” Smith said. “And sometimes I’ve been shooting like it’s still college without using my legs, and come up short, but I just have to use my legs more.”

A very insightful source on Smith’s shooting, Texas Tech’s Director of Player Development Max Lefevre talked with Liberty Ballers’ Kevin Love about his motivation towards becoming a more capable shooter.

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.

Smith participated in an assortment of shooting drills Tuesday in preparation for Friday’s opener against Boston, and the newly-signed mega talent continues his quest in becoming a knockdown NBA shooter.

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