The NBA season is officially back and the Sixers are off to a roaring start, having squashed the rival Boston Celtics in the opening game of the year in front of an incredible crowd in Philadelphia. Ben Simmons showed his star potential, Josh Richardson showed why he is one of the best two-way guards in the league, and Joel Embiid was able to rest frequently, that’s new!
With all of the great new things shown in the first game, there are some interesting points about the rotation to take away. Brett Brown decided to rely on four main bench players to soak up non-starter minutes, and while that group of players could change as the season goes on, there are a few that seem to be completely out of the race for minutes at the moment.
The Sixers used a first-round pick on Zhaire Smith last year, and after a lost rookie season, he is basically starting on the ground floor in terms of earning his coaches’ trust in game situations. All offseason, the talk around Smith was positive — he had gained the weight that his emergency surgery took from him, his jump shot was returning to normal, and his patented jumping ability continued to show. Even with all of this, the 20-year-old still didn’t crack the rotation in the preseason, and is even less likely to do so anytime soon now that the games actually matter.
It is looking more and more likely that Smith is going to be a daily inactive for a Sixers team looking to win now and unable to solely dedicate time to getting young players acclimated to the league. The team needs to figure out if it is worth it to have Smith sit in street clothes at the end of the bench every game or start gaining valuable minutes in Delaware for their G League affiliate. (Editor’s Note: The Delaware Blue Coats’ first game is on November 9.)
When Smith came back from his major injury last year, he jumped right into the Blue Coats’ lineup, gaining confidence quickly and eventually making his NBA debut and giving the Sixers some nice minutes toward the end of the year. There is no reason why this can’t be the same type of situation this year — let Smith grow with less pressure on him and see what you have in him once a spot in the rotation opens up or he vastly outplays his competition in the G League.
Once he is ready to take on a role, Zhaire Smith’s presence is one that the Sixers should be excited to see. He can be used next to Matisse Thybulle as a top defensive stopper, as a rim-runner in transition, and someone who can use his high-level athleticism to make plays that others simply can’t. That role isn’t currently available on a team that has looked deeper than years past, but it could open up at a later date.
Right now, Zhaire Smith needs to gain more of the confidence that made him a lottery pick, and if that comes in the G League by dominating suboptimal opponents, then so be it. The Sixers are in a position where they don’t need Smith to be a major star on their team, they just need him to be himself. That should come in time, and as the roster stands now, it seems like they can afford to give Smith that time in order for him to grow.