As we make our way toward training camp, we’ll be examining what would constitute a successful season for various members of the roster. Previously covered: Markelle Fultz, Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, Joel Embiid. Next up, Zhaire Smith.
There have been two schools of thought regarding how the Sixers fared in this past NBA Draft. The first group believes that Zhaire Smith is the perfect fit for the Sixers bench, a player who can guard multiple positions at a high level and play above the rim. The other group believes that the Sixers royally screwed up by trading away Mikal Bridges in order to get Smith and a future first round draft pick, because Bridges is the better prospect and can help out immediately. Of course, who said both of these ideas can't be correct?
Yes, Bridges was rated as a better prospect than Smith throughout much of the pre-draft process and probably would have fit the team better this year, but it’s not a reach to say Smith has the higher upside looking at just his defensive ability and athleticism alone. There are still deficiencies in his game, but as one of the youngest players in the draft class, he has time to work on them.
With the foot injury sustained in the offseason, Smith won’t be back until Christmas time if everything goes according to plan. Not having him in the rotation to start the year will hurt, but it shouldn’t stall his development too much. The first step towards Smith having a successful rookie season on a team that doesn’t usually have rookies available to play in their first year would be for him to stay on the court. Staying on the court may seem like a foregone conclusion for a player to have a good year, but after this past season, as long as Smith doesn’t forget how to shoot a basketball I would look at it as a plus.
Now, when Smith does return to the court, he should be looked at to play a vital role off the bench. One of the biggest problems of last year’s roster was the inability to defend highly athletic wings. With Smith on the team, as well as some improved depth, that should be less of a concern. Smith will likely never have to be the superstar on this team, which isn’t a bad thing. The Sixers would be smart to play to his strengths and let him work on his deficiencies without having to rely on them in-game.
Like many of the players on the team this year, Zhaire Smith will have to work on improving his jump shot. It’s not something that needs building from the ground up, but some fine tuning could help him become a shooter that defenses need to guard closely. Most known for his highlight dunks, Smith shouldn’t shy away from getting to the hoop, but as a guy projected to play on the wing, an outside game would help the second unit a lot.
Zhaire Smith has the potential to be a very important piece to a future championship caliber team. He may never be a dominant offensive weapon, but his ability to evolve into an even more well rounded player should help the Sixers down the road, even if it’s not necessarily this year. A year of growth as the defensive stopper and spark plug off the bench is exactly what the Sixers need out of him and would be deemed very successful. If everyone on the team can fill their role, then there’s a good chance the Sixers will make a deep playoff run.