Zhaire Smith has significantly altered the release point on his jump shot. It appears that he did so naturally, on his own, while recovering from some physical setbacks he suffered since last June.
The 16th overall pick in the 2018 NBA draft first suffered a Jones fracture injury in his foot following summer league. After that he needed an emergency thoracoscopy because of an allergy. Then because
of complications from that experience Sixers, he lost significant weight:
Zhaire Smith says he weighs 206 pounds. Was as low as 164.— Noah Levick (@NoahLevick) March 2, 2019
Over the time he was dealing with the complications from his allergy and resulting surgery it sounds like he was determined to put up some shots, even with a tube in his stomach. According to Noah Levick of NBC Sports Philadelphia:
Followed up by asking whether his form feels comfortable and like something he can do consistently. He said "yes," confidently.— Noah Levick (@NoahLevick) March 5, 2019
Zhaire Smith: "I eat sleep, and dream basketball."— Noah Levick (@NoahLevick) March 5, 2019
So, how'd he cope when he couldn't play?
“I went to the gym. Tube in my stomach and all, I was doing jump shooting.”
Smith was listed at around 195 lbs before the NBA draft according to The Stepien, with a height of 6’5 and wingspan of 6’11. According to Smith himself, he’s up to 206 today and you can really tell from the following photo that he has clearly been in that weight room lately. He’s bigger than ever. Just look at his shoulders and back now:
You may have also noticed in the photo how he’s changed the release point on his jumper. So is this a good thing? It’s probably a bit early to tell. But let’s look at what changes were made.
Zhaire’s form has been a bit of a work in progress since the beginning of his freshman year at Texas Tech. That’s good, he’s very adaptable.
He used to hold the ball well-centered over the top of his head, although he cranked it back pretty far with a hint of a pause (not quite a hitch, which means you bring the ball behind your head or have a pronounced second-motion to your shot) before releasing. His right (shooting arm) would then drift towards the right after he released or drop to his sides heavily. His guide-hand was mostly uninvolved although sometimes, because he has a tendency to fully extend his left arm, his left thumb might influence the ball a bit it appeared:
He was and still seems to be only semi-diligent about freezing his follow through until the make or miss; things that can lead to variance in one’s depth perception.
Not that there is necessarily one optimal release point, but most of the best shooters release the ball closer to Smith’s July form than his new February form.
This video shows the evolution of his form from fall of 2017-through today. In my opinion, his shot looked the best back in July of 2018, after a few changes he made following his stint in college, but you can decide for yourself:
Consider, the Splash Brothers, Klay Thompson on the left and Stephen Curry on the right:
You can see more of a straight line (literally drawn in along Klay above) from the ball over head, down through their shooting elbow, shoulder, and hip.
It makes sense why when feeling weak a person may move his or her shot pocket all the way over to the right, you can generate more power by triggering those larger muscle groups in the trunk, shoulders and arm.
With a centered release (like smith used to have) you’re asking a bit more from your legs, and the smaller muscles of the arm, without that big assist from other muscle groups. In a compromised state of recovery, it’s a change that makes sense. Although as most of the great shooters demonstrate, what you may lose in power you can gain in accuracy with the more center line release.
Because of this I’m curious if the team and their shooting coach John Townsend would like to address Smith’s form again at some point between now and next season.
I wonder if it was impressed upon Smith during his absence to try to perfect his form if he was in fact going to make any changes.
Through the most forgiving lens we might say: it’s just great that he is even playing and if he did what felt right at the time that may have lifted his spirits through one of the toughest times during his brief career or even his life. Let’s see how he shoots in the G League and we can worry about tinkering with the form later this summer, he’s just a rookie still learning the game.
Through the least forgiving lens: when a player is 19 years old it’s exponentially easier to change and improve form than when that player is 21 or 22; muscle memory gets harder and harder to change the more shots someone puts up and patterns become ingrained. If this isn’t the best possible form, now would be the time to address it while he still presumably has the rest of the year and an off-season to optimize his mechanics.
Smith profiles as such an elite athlete and skilled and creative passer/playmaker that the shooting may not define his career. Here is what The Stepien’s Jackson Hoy, who ranked Smith as the 8th best prospect in the draft last year wrote about him before the draft:
If his handle can catch up with his excellence as a passer, perimeter defender, and athlete as he continues to get stronger, it may not matter that much how well he shoots from 3.
But to fit in alongside Ben Simmons (maybe in a starting role some day) he’ll want to get to at least average from downtown.
We’ll be curious to see how his new shot develops.