Zhaire Smith and the Blue Coats’ bigs spoil Justin Anderson’s “homecoming”

Many Sixers fans were excited to see Justin Anderson at the 76ers game on Monday night in Philadelphia. He was in town to watch his former squad play because his current squad, the Raptors 905, were playing the Delaware Blue Coats on Tuesday night in Wilmington. Despite a decent all around game from Anderson, however, the Coats came out on top, 115-106. Zhaire Smith and Norvel Pelle, two more names most Sixers fans will recognize, led the way for the 76ers G League affiliate.

Zhaire Smith Stays Aggressive

It’s been a slow journey for Zhaire Smith as he starts out his professional career. His near-death illness and related struggles throughout last year have been well chronicled. However, they have also led to a somewhat disappointing beginning to Zhaire’s career. He’s flashed some moments where that potential shines bright. But most of his time with the Blue Coats has been…forgettable.

Smith averaged just 7.2 points per game last season with Delaware. He has raised that to 12.8 ppg this season, but that’s still a far cry from the numbers you want to see from your former first round draft pick playing on a team that leads the G League in points scored. Saturday night, however, Zhaire set a new career high with 18 points in a loss to the Wisconsin Herd. He backed that up with another 18 on Tuesday night against the Raptors 905.

Zhaire Smith looks aggressive
Zhaire Smith looks much more aggressive the last couple games. Photo by Wayne Terry, TPL.

“Lately he’s been more active on the offensive end, being aggressive, turning the corner and getting downhill in ways that have been helpful to us,” head coach Connor Johnson said about Zhaire after the game on Tuesday. “The higher his motor is, the more plays he can make.”

Zhaire came out hot, scoring 10 points in the opening quarter. He was also tasked with being the main defender on Justin Anderson. Smith appeared locked in on both sides of the floor from the opening tip. He ended up holding Anderson to 4-15 shooting, making things difficult for “Simba” all night. If Zhaire Smith continues to stay aggressive on both ends of the floor, his future with the 76ers will continue to look much brighter than it did even last week.

Blue Coats’ Size Overwhelms

The Blue Coats want to get out and run. Head coach Connor Johnson has said that since the beginning of the year. They certainly have the horses (pun intended, for those who know the Blue Coats mascot) to be successful in this strategy. But they also have a size advantage in almost every game. The Coats’ big men had another dominant game on Tuesday against the Raptors 905.

With Norvel Pelle up with the 76ers the last couple games, Doral Moore has had the opportunity to shine. Just last game on Sunday night, Moore had 19 points and 17 rebounds. However, with Pelle back in the fold, Moore slid back into a bench role. He was the first big man to check into the game, but it was quickly apparent that tonight would be about two other Coats big men, limiting Moore to 0 points in just 4 minutes.

Pelle finished with a team-high 20 points and 14 rebounds, continuing his absolutely dominating play in the G League. He came into the game averaging a double-double and only increased those numbers on Tuesday night. Similar to the last game he played with the Blue Coats, Pelle’s fingerprints were all over this one.

In lieu of Doral Moore, Christ Koumadje ended up receiving most of the backup center minutes. He did not disappoint. Koumadje finished with a career high 12 points on 5-6 from the field and 1-1 at the charity stripe. His effortless finishes to alley-oops for which he hardly has to even jump were on full display. He also showed a little better timing and mobility on the defensive end, finishing with 3 blocked shots in just 15 minutes.

With so many talented big men (Jonah Bolden’s name hasn’t even been mentioned yet), it’s important for each one of them to be ready at any time. When their name is called, it is their chance to show Coach Johnson why they deserve more minutes. Koumadje was ready in this one. “I was just ready, whenever, to come in and play and make an impact,” Koumadje said after the game.

Wire-to-Wire

Despite an unusually poor shooting night from both of the Blue Coats’ leading scorers (Marial Shayok and Xavier Munford), the Coats were still able to lead in this game from beginning to end. Haywood Highsmith hit a corner three to start off the scoring, and they never looked back. However, despite leading by double-digits late in the fourth quarter, the game got uncomfortably close with a minute to play.

However, with the Blue Coats leading by just 4 points, they caught the Raptors 905 sleeping by getting the ball up the floor quickly, topped off with a beautiful alley-oop slam from Xavier Munford to Zhaire Smith. This ended up being the proverbial nail in the coffin for the Raptors 905. The Delaware Blue Coats moved to 6-4 on the season, while the Raptors 905 dropped to 3-5. The Blue Coats will be back in action on Friday night against the Capital City Go-Go. They will look to avenge a 20-point loss to the Go-Go back on November 19.