PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Ever since the draft night trade of Villanova standout Mikal Bridges last month, Sixers fans have been watching closely the play and development of Zhaire Smith, who Brett Brown dubbed his “1B.”
While Smith was not the focal point of the Sixers offense during their 2018 Summer League campaign, the freakishly athletic and defensive stud showed flashes of his natural gift of athleticism that cannot be taught.
The 6-foot-5 guard out of Texas Tech proved three crucial things with his athleticism in just a handful of games played.
Firstly, Smith can recover well on defense. The 19-year-old is far from a lockdown defender at this level and moment but he is gifted enough athletically to never be out of a play. Smith showed he can be out of position, as he got blown by quite a bit, but he was able to get back in the play time and time game as he made a crucial deflection or steal.
Secondly, Smith can run the fast break like a world-class sprinter coming out of the block. If ever he shares the floor with Ben Simmons, the duo of the Fresh Prince and Smith may have a Kevin Love (passer) to LeBron James (receiver) fast-break connection.
Thirdly, Smith showed that his athleticism is literally leaps and bounds above the competition as he was able to get up and tip slam misses and reject shots that seemed nearly impossible. Smith’s explosiveness is reminiscent of fellow Texas native Gerald Green, who was drafted 13 years ago. Much like Green, Smith’s bounce will dominate the highlights of his young career but if his shooting improves, he may become a good role player for the squad.
But for him to truly show forth early-years Kawhi Leonard qualities that Brown says he sees in Smith, the young man from Garland needs to improve his on-ball defense by just being more consistent on staying with his guy and preventing him from penetrating the paint. The good thing for Smith on that front is that All-Star center Joel Embiid does a good job of erasing when Sixers perimeter defenders are caught lacking.
Smith also needs to learn how to put the ball on the deck, drive with authority and finish consistently. But he’s getting the dishing out of assists thing down it seems.
As far as shooting, that will come along or not, depending on his dedication but his form is not too bad.
In the end, Brown is looking for Smith to develop into the perfect space and fast pace guy.
As for right now, Smith’s athleticism will have him taking minutes away, possibly a roster spot away from his guard/forward doppelganger Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, who at 23 years of age and entering his third year in the NBA, is no longer the only athletic flyer with potential on the team.
Smith should take careful note of that because if he does not improve drastically and quickly enough, he may find little to no TLC from the Sixers’ brass when a rookie comes for his spot in a few years.