76ers

Basketball-obsessed Zhaire Smith isn't exactly the same player he was before Jones fracture, allergic reaction

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Kevin Gallagher

Basketball-obsessed Zhaire Smith isn't exactly the same player he was before Jones fracture, allergic reaction

WILMINGTON, Del. — Plenty of us like basketball. We enjoy playing it, watching it, thinking about it.

Zhaire Smith is obsessed with basketball.

“I eat, sleep and dream basketball,” he said Monday after scoring 12 points in the Delaware Blue Coats’ win over the Fort Wayne Mad Ants (see observations). “I live for basketball. Being able to play, no matter which level it is, I’m glad.”

So, how’d the 19-year-old rookie cope when the sport was taken away from him as a result of a Jones fracture in his left foot in August, followed by serious medical complications stemming from an allergic reaction?

“I went to the gym,” he said. “Tube in my stomach and all, I was in the gym shooting.”

Smith is healthy now, smiling, throwing down put-back dunks and locking down opposing guards. On the surface, it’s like nothing has changed. 

He still has the athleticism that former teammate Landry Shamet described as “sneaky” and “freaky” back in July.

He still has the tools to be an elite defender — the No. 1 thing Blue Coats head coach Connor Johnson said himself and the Sixers want to see during Smith’s time in the G League.

But a few things are different about the 6-foot-4 wing. After dropping as low as 164 pounds, he’s now at 206. That’s seven pounds higher than he was listed at in the Sixers’ media guide, and he says he feels like a stronger player.

The form on his jump shot has also changed. 

In the summer, Smith was releasing the ball directly over the top of his head. 

Now, he’s letting the ball go on his right side. 

According to him, the change did not happen intentionally. 

“That just came naturally when I lost all that weight,” he said. “When I hit the gym for the first time, right when I put it up, it was just right there. It’s just been there ever since — it just came natural. I didn’t really put it there. It came there alone, by itself.”

When asked if his new form feels comfortable and replicable, Smith gave an emphatic “yes.” Though he only made 1 of 4 jumpers Monday, his shoot was smooth and he fired without hesitation.

A solid jumper will likely need to be part of what Smith brings to the table offensively in the NBA, but Johnson’s emphasis is on helping him become “a well-rounded basketball player.” Given that he played mostly at power forward at Texas Tech, Smith’s pull-up jumper Monday from the right elbow after sizing up his man with a few between-the-legs dribbles was an encouraging sign that he might be expanding his offensive game.

That sequence is illustrative of why it might be too simplistic to characterize Smith as the same player he was before his injury and medical situation — even if doing so is a compliment.

He’s shown a knack for learning quickly, a quality Johnson appreciates.

What’s fun for me is his improvements from the first time he went in to the second time he went in … in terms of getting to the ball, forcing it in a certain direction. I say to him, ‘OK, Zhaire, this is what we want.’ And then boom, he’s getting the guy to his weak hand, forcing a tough shot, sticking to his body — all stuff we like to see. To see that amount of growth within a game — it’s not even within years or within months … we’re seeing a lot of growth, and that’s something to be excited about.

The first priority now for Smith is getting minutes, staying healthy and unlocking his defensive potential. Whether he joins the Sixers once the Blue Coats’ season is over and contributes in the playoffs remains to be seen.

That said, we're talking about a player who went from an unranked high school senior to a first-round pick after a year in college. There's no way Smith is done growing.

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Wisconsin Herd head coach Chase Buford suspended for unfiltered, colorful rant

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@ryanrodigwfrv

Wisconsin Herd head coach Chase Buford suspended for unfiltered, colorful rant

After serving as an assistant coach with the Delaware Blue Coats last season, 31-year-old Chase Buford was hired as the head coach of the Wisconsin Herd, who will play the Blue Coats on Tuesday and Thursday. 

Buford will not be coaching in those games, since he’s suspended for Wisconsin’s next two contests. The rant below, courtesy of WFRV-TV’s Ryan Rodig, is why: 

Buford’s request to tag the G League and make sure they saw his comments — along with him labeling a referee a ‘f---ing clown’ — makes the suspension unsurprising. The suspension is officially for a "direct and extended public attack on the integrity and credibility of the game officials,” the G League announced.

On Sunday night, Buford issued an apology.

You likely will not see or hear that level of unfiltered, colorful anger from a head coach for a while.

In Buford’s first head coaching gig, he’s led the Herd to a 28-9 record, the best record in the G League. 

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It sounds like Brett Brown has a long-term plan without Ben Simmons in mind

It sounds like Brett Brown has a long-term plan without Ben Simmons in mind

Updated: 6:32 p.m. 

Ben Simmons is still being evaluated for a lower back injury, a team spokesperson said Monday night before the Sixers’ game vs. the Atlanta Hawks. The Sixers and Simmons’ representation are working together to decide a course of action, the spokesperson said.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Simmons “is expected to be sidelined for an undetermined period of time” and that “Simmons' injury will have longer-term implications than simply the 76ers' upcoming road trip.”

Head coach Brett Brown said he was unsure how long the injury would sideline Simmons. The 23-year-old sustained the injury at practice Wednesday going up for a rebound, according to Brown, and irritated it in the first quarter of Saturday night’s game against the Bucks.

“I don’t know,” Brown said. “And it really is like how long is a piece of string — who knows? Who knows? … Whatever the time equals on days, games, period of time, we can talk more honestly as this thing shakes out.”

However, it sounded as if Brown was preparing for his two-time All-Star point guard to be out for a while. He framed the situation as one the Sixers can cope with if other players take advantage of the chance to play expanded roles.

There’s 25 games left. … It’s an eternity,” he said. “Just keep going back to the end game. What’s the bottom line? I’ll say it again — if you get their health and their spirit, it’s got a chance to equal form. … And it’s all about landing the plane. And so with 25 games left, we’ve taken a hit with Ben. 

"I do see it this way. I’m not spinning it. It’s an opportunity for us to learn and something will emerge. And we need something to emerge. It’s not like we were all saying, ‘Oh, here it is, it’s anointed.’ It wasn’t that. So, I think we’re going to learn something and find something. If this was six games out, I wouldn’t be telling you this story. When it’s 25 games out, it is, with all my heart, what I think. That’s what I said to the team, that’s what I really think and that’s what I’m going to try to pull off.

Who specifically will take over ball handling duties? Brown said it “will be done by committee” for the time being, and he named a few players who he expects to be in that mix. Monday night, the team will start Shake Milton, Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris, Al Horford and Joel Embiid. 

“The candidates could be Raul Neto or [Furkan Korkmaz] or Alec Burks or J-Rich, Shake," he said. "So, you have capable people that aren’t traditional point guards but have the ability to get the ball up the floor. Then at that point, you’re probably going to have to be in something that has motion and continuity instead of just giving Chris Paul the ball and saying, ‘Go to work’ out of a pick-and-roll, as an example.”

Regardless of Brown’s attitude, the tangible impact of not having Simmons for an extended period would clearly be significant. He leads the league in steals, has assisted on the most three-pointers and is a highly athletic, versatile and talented player.

Though there’s no definitive timeline currently, the loss of all those attributes would no doubt be difficult to overcome.

“When there is a vacuum, as there is right now with Ben, something will happen,” Brown said. “Somebody will step up. I’m trying to see the world through those eyes, and I really do — it’s not even creative coach speak. I see it as an opportunity, and I think I need to see it that way.”

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