It’s been a long road for Zhaire Smith in his rookie campaign. The 19 year old has battled through injury, illness, and a long rehabilitation process to return to action over the past five weeks, including six games with the Philadelphia 76ers. 

“It feels good. I’ve worked extremely hard for it, and it’s really my first time fighting through adversity, so that was a goal accomplished,” said Zhaire postgame Wednesday about his road back. 

On Wednesday night, in the regular season finale, Smith started his second NBA game and recorded 17 points, 5 assists, and 4 rebounds in 31 minutes played. The Sixers defeated Chicago 125-109 to complete the 2018/19 season 51-31. This represents the first back-to-back 50 win seasons in more than 30 years for the Sixers franchise. 

Beyond the Numbers

In addition to his statistical production, Smith played excellent defense, albeit against a high lottery Chicago Bulls team that was resting most of its rotational players. 

As the Sixers head into the NBA playoffs against the Brooklyn Nets, Zhaire’s ability to defend opposing guards may prove valuable, especially in light of James Ennis’ injury which will likely keep him out for another week. 

We caught up with Zhaire on April 4th to discuss what he thought he could bring to the Sixers in the playoffs and moving forward. 

Defending the Pick-and-Roll

When asked about what he can bring in defending ball handlers in the pick-and-roll, Zhaire responded, “Just be aggressive, listen to what the coaches say, and talk more.” 

And this is really key. As TJ McConnell said Wednesday, “They got two guys that can really score, so it makes the big come up more. They’re good at passing to the roller. So, it’s about containing Spencer [Dinwiddie] and D’Angelo [Russell], and I know we’ll be up for the task.” 

Brett Brown noted pregame that he expects to use an “8 and a half man rotation” in the playoffs but will employ “horses for courses.” Despite Zhaire’s extremely limited professional experience, his defense on ball may make him the right Filly for Philly in round 1.