Another offseason and another load of questions, concerns, excitement, and mysteries. Nothing new for the Philadelphia 76ers. Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris will dominate the airwaves regarding their future status with the team, but what happens with JJ Redick?
We’re not going to delve into JJ Redick and the many positive and negative impacts he has on the court for Philadelphia, but we will dissect what his departure or role with the Sixers could potentially mean for one of the four members of the team that head into the offseason under contract.
Let’s talk about a healthy Zhaire Smith.
If JJ Redick re-signs and starts at shooting guard…
Redick has shown no signs of a decline. We all know he is capable of harnessing a high usage as a member of the Philadelphia starting lineup, but what does it mean for Zhaire Smith if Redick remains a starter?
If JJ does come back to the Sixers as a member of the starting lineup, we will see Zhaire Smith play limited minutes again as a backup wing; something similar to what we saw from James Ennis but maybe even less playing time. Brett Brown trusts his veterans, but defense and effort (effit and spirit, as Brett Brown calls it) can thrust anyone into a more prominent role.
If JJ Redick re-signs and comes off the bench…
This would be a sign that Zhaire Smith’s role with the 76ers could be the most limited of any other outcome, but why?
If JJ Redick is coming off the bench, it won’t be because Smith is starting. Unless Zhaire turns into baby Kawhi Leonard overnight, the starting shooting guard in a world where JJ Redick is coming off the bench will be that of a prize free agent or trade acquisition.
This is arguably the best scenario for Philadelphia, with regards to wins and overall success. Smith is just as valuable of a prospect as he was on the night of the 2018 NBA Draft. He wasn’t acquired for what he can do for the team right now. He remains a long-term investment. This is a world where we’d see Zhaire spend a lot of time with the Delaware Blue Coats.
If JJ Redick does not re-sign with the 76ers…
It would be a shame to see JJ Redick move on to another team and to compound that sadness, it’d most likely be close to his home in the Eastern Conference for the Brooklyn Nets or the New York Knicks. Sixers fans would miss him, but they’d get their dosage of JJ; this time coming from the other team.
If Redick does in fact move on, Zhaire Smith is the biggest wildcard in the 76ers rotation. A vacant starting spot would be staring right into the eyes of Brett Brown. Tobias Harris has seen most of his minutes at power forward and Jimmy Butler at small forward. Are they switchable pieces in the lineup? Of course.
Jimmy Butler could seamlessly slide to the shooting guard position if the 76ers acquired another starting-caliber wing, meaning Zhaire Smith would be in a similar position as he’d be if JJ Redick was still on the team. But what if there is no starting wing replacement, and instead the team targets depth bench pieces?
What would the Sixers look like with Zhaire Smith as the starting shooting guard…?
The Oklahoma City Thunder have a pretty set-in-stone usage chart, regarding their starting lineup. Russell Westbrook and Paul George dominate the touches, and role players surround them. Steven Adams isn’t asked to do much on that team, but he does what he’s asked at an elite level.
Similar to Adams is Andre Roberson, who missed this season due to a lower body injury. Roberson is one of the premiere wing defenders in the NBA, and someone I’ve been comparing Zhaire Smith to since the day he entered the picture in Philadelphia.
A healthy Andre Roberson at starting shooting guard on the Philadelphia 76ers would be pretty ideal, especially in the playoffs when you’re playing the matchup game, but the first argument out of the mouths of Twitter analysts would be something along the lines of “He can’t shoot” and “A player like that can’t coexist with Ben Simmons” who also cannot or does not want to shoot.
Defensively, it’s elite, but it presents its problems on offense. Now, back to Zhaire Smith. We’ve made the comparison to Andre Roberson on the Thunder. Roberson is one of the most inept offensive players in the NBA and when he is scoring, it’s a product of his athleticism and hustle, which are two things Zhaire Smith possesses; it’s what caught the eyes of the Sixers and Brett Brown while he was playing ball at Texas Tech.
Smith played six games with the Sixers in 2018-19 and averaged 18.5 minutes per game. In those minutes, he averaged 6.7 points a night, but here are two stats that should give Philly fans hope. Smith shot 37.5 percent from the three-point line and 75 percent from the foul stripe, which is a dull, blinking light of hope.
Yes, it was a small sample size, but it’s evidence that he could break those Andre Roberson-like worries regarding his fit in a lineup with Ben Simmons. Now, let’s go back to his days at Texas Tech. Smith played 28.4 minutes per game with the Red Raiders (37 games played and 21 starts), which is just about ten more minutes of action than he averaged in his six games as a member of the 76ers.
In those 28.4 minutes, Smith only attempted 1.1 three point field goals per game. He played about 10 more minutes of game action a night, yet he attempted 1.6 less shots from three per game (Zhaire Smith averaged 2.7 three-point attempts in his rookie season with Philadelphia). This shows us a growing willingness to shoot, as well as a kid gaining confidence in his shot, which is a breath of fresh air in the city of Philadelphia, but we won’t go there.
If Zhaire Smith’s NBA rate of 37.5 percent from three is where he levels out at in his prime – when you mix that with his athleticism, finishing ability, and defensive upside – there’s no reason to believe he won’t be able to start on the 76ers. The question remains – when? Again, JJ Redick’s future with the Sixers may be what determines that timeline.