School: Texas Tech
You won’t be able to tell just by looking at him or listening to him talk. Zhaire Smith’s physique isn’t overly imposing and he’s a pretty soft-spoken guy.
Even the numbers wouldn’t be able to explain things for Smith. He averaged a modest 11.3 points and 5.0 rebounds a game as a freshman for Texas Tech in 2017-18.
But if you watch him play, Smith’s game is loud. It’s angry and aggressive.
Smith burst onto the scene with his elite athleticism and active defensive ability to help lead the Red Raiders to the Elite Eight. Now he’s gone from three-star recruit to likely first-round pick.
As mentioned earlier, Smith’s game has a certain bounce. Serious bounce.
The 19-year-old tied for second among all players at the NBA draft combine with a vertical leap of 41.5 inches.
And it’s not just the leaping ability. Smith is fearless when going to the rack. He will dunk over, through and around just about anyone at the rim.
That attitude extends to the defensive side where Smith uses his 6-9 wingspan to terrorize opponents.
“Defending,” Smith said Tuesday after his pre-draft workout with the Sixers when asked about his go-to skill. “I feel like anybody can score. If you just do that small thing that coach wants you to, you’re good in the league.”
While Smith noted athleticism and defense as his main talents, the rest of his game needs some work. He is the quintessential jack-of-all-trades, master of none.
Smith can get buckets at times, but he wouldn’t be one of a team’s primary scorers at the next level. He also can set up teammates, but don’t expect him to be a legit playmaker.
Even his shooting percentages at Texas Tech — which were extremely strong — come with a bit of an asterisk. Smith shot 55.6 percent from the field (with a lot of those baskets coming on dunks and put-backs). He even connected on 45.0 percent from three-point range, although that was on 40 total attempts in 37 games.
There are countless sheer athletes in the NBA, but let’s go with Houston Rockets guard Gerald Green. Both have freakish leaping ability, like to do the dirty work on defense and hail from Texas (Green is from Houston and Smith is a Garland, Texas, native).
How’d he fit with Sixers
The Sixers are trying to make waves right now in the league and don’t have much time for players that can be viewed as projects. Plus, with Markelle Fultz and Justin Anderson already on the roster, there isn’t much room for another slash-first guard.
If Smith were more of a threat from long range, there might be serious consideration. But 18 makes in 40 games doesn’t scream of a guy that’s going to make that his calling card in the NBA.
Smith said after his workout with the Sixers that he’s hearing he should be selected anywhere from No. 11 to No. 20. That sounds about right for him, which means the Sixers would be taking a risk at No. 10 and aren’t high enough at No. 26 if they wanted to nab him later.