Despite entering his second season, this will be Zhaire Smith’s first full season with the Philadelphia 76ers. Who is Zhaire Smith? Here is everything you need to know about young stud out of Texas Tech.
2018-19 Season Recap
It was a season Zhaire Smith would like to forget. A Jones fracture in his left foot in August. A horrible allergic reaction in September. Both injuries sidelined Zhaire Smith before the season ever began. It took six months before Zhaire finally made his NBA debut. Let’s take a quick look back before going forward.
Zhaire Smith made his much anticipated pro debut vs. the Maine Red Claws on March 1st, 2019. Despite just logging 15 minutes and shooting 1-4 from the floor, his return was much, much more than a box score. Here is a video overview of Zhaire Smith’s return to game of basketball.
Zhaire Smith averaged 11.4 points and 2.5 steals per 36 minutes with the Delaware Blue Coats. Zhaire struggled with his jump shot, but he continued to flash the athleticism, the ability to crash the offensive glass, and excellent on-ball defense in 11 games with the Delaware Blue Coats.
During the last game of the 2018-19 regular season, Zhaire logged a career high 32 minutes vs. the Chicago Bulls. His 17 point, 5 assist performance was one of the many highlights of the Sixers’ season. Despite just turning 20 years old in June 2019, expectations were extremely high entering Summer League.
2019 Summer League Recap
In four games, Zhaire averaged 13.2 points and 2.8 assists in 27 minutes per game during the Summer League. He shot 48% from the field and 38.5% from three. Zhaire’s on-ball defense was as good as advertised. Most importantly, Zhaire’s body also looked improved, as well as his handle.
Here is a video breakdown of Zhaire Smith’s play during the 2019 Summer League in Las Vegas.
Zhaire’s ability to utilize his handle, create space, and pull up from three and from midrange was a pleasant surprise. In an interview after a comeback victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder, Zhaire said, “I like the pull-up jumper, I feel like that’s my game.” Zhaire showed all Sixers fans that he was only beginning to scratch the surface of the NBA player he will become.
Philadelphia 76ers Summer Shore Tour, August 2019
In August, The Painted Lines traveled to Wildwood, New Jersey to cover the Summer Shore Tour. Jason Blevins and Eric Marturano interviewed Zhaire Smith to discuss his offseason, performance during the Summer League, and goals for the 2019-20 season. Zhaire spent the majority of the summer in the basketball gym and in Dallas with his family.
Sixers Training Camp & Preseason
Zhaire Smith speaks during Sixers Media Day
Zhaire Smith, along with rookie Matisse Thybulle, spent the majority of Sixers training camp learning under the guidance of veteran Josh Richardson. What kinds of things did Zhaire work on during the summer? Zhaire told the media that he spent much of the summer working with his trainer to become a more consistent shooter on the perimeter.
Many Sixers fans, myself included, were of the belief that Zhaire Smith would be one of the first guards off the bench during the preseason. That came to a quick halt after learning that Matisse Thybulle and James Ennis would be the first two off of Brett Brown’s bench.
Matisse Thybulle’s emergence as a real rotation player for the Philadelphia 76ers seemed to put Zhaire Smith’s return to the Sixers on temporary hold. Most of Zhaire Smith’s playing time in the preseason came during the 4th quarter. He finished the preseason averaging 6.2 points in 10.2 minutes per game. It was a quiet preseason for Zhaire Smith, receiving only end of the rotation minutes through five games.
Were there any positives from preseason? Despite playing minimal minutes, Zhaire certainly showed increased confidence throughout training camp with the Philadelphia 76ers. At the end of preseason, it was clear that Zhaire Smith was the odd man out. Most notably, Zhaire’s basketball IQ and outside shooting required further seasoning before receiving increased playing time.
Here is a highlight reel of Zhaire Smith during the 2019 preseason.
Delaware Blue Coats Camp
Over the past couple of weeks, Zhaire Smith has been working out in Wilmington with Connor Johnson and the Delaware Blue Coats. Jason Blevins was the 76ers Fieldhouse and interviewed Zhaire Smith. When asked about what he’s been told to work on, Zhaire responded “Go out there, get your minutes and be aggressive.”
The first numbers that stand out for Zhaire while with the G League is his shooting. Zhaire made 5 of his 26 attempts from 3 last season (19.2%) and had a true shooting percentage of 44.9%. Zhaire Smith clearly wants to show that he can be a more reliable floor spacer in the G League. Zhaire Smith’s usage rate was 15.9% in 11 games with the Blue Coats last season. Sixers fans should expect the majority of these percentages to increase in 2019.
Zhaire was asked what he wants to show while with the Delaware Blue Coats. “My all around game. I want to continue to shoot the ball and show my overall defense. I keep things in perspective. Last year was in the hospital. Now I’m back. I put in hard work over the Summer and I’m good now.”
Jason Blevins interviews Zhaire Smith following the final practice of Blue Coats Camp
When asked how Zhaire’s development will translate to the 76ers, Zhaire stated “Just getting my minutes and shots in.” Zhaire Smith expects to defend the best player on the court every time he puts on the Blue Coats uniform. He also expects to shoot more from the perimeter and believes he can defend 1-4 in the NBA G League. Despite just turning 20 years old, Zhaire Smith is in a strange position of being one of the top leader of the Delaware Blue Coats.
2019-20 Season Outlook
A couple of weeks ago, Brett Brown opted to have Zhaire Smith start with the Delaware Blue Coats. It is clear that Brown wants Zhaire to develop his game at the 76ers Fieldhouse rather than watch his peers perform on the sideline. After an extremely difficult rookie season, the Delaware Blue Coats is the perfect place for Zhaire Smith to showcase his elite on-ball defense and athleticism.
What do I want to see from Zhaire Smith this season? I’ve got a couple of things. First, I want to see Smith be given a larger role on offense. Yes, he was just coming back from injury, but Zhaire was very much just running through the motions on offense with the Blue Coats last season. I need to see his 7.6 attempts per game significantly increase, along with a higher usage percentage in 2019.
Lastly, I want to see more points off turnovers from Zhaire Smith. We all know that Brett Brown requires two things from his wings: 1) deflections and 2) points off turnovers. Smith averaged 1.5 points off turnovers with the Blue Coats last season. This is the real path for Zhaire playing with Philadelphia 76ers this year. He must show that he can create turnovers, cause deflections in passing lanes, and spark the fast break.
Between Zhaire Smith, Marial Shayok, and Norvel Pelle, there is a lot to be excited about with the Delaware Blue Coats roster this season. Whether it is Zhaire crashing the offensive glass for put-backs or Norvel rolling to the basket for alley oops, it is going to be a show at the 76ers Fieldhouse in 2019-20.