76ers

NBA draft profile: Texas Tech G Zhaire Smith

NBA draft profile: Texas Tech G Zhaire Smith

Zhaire Smith

Position: Guard

Height: 6-4

Weight: 199

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.

Strengths
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.”

Weaknesses
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.

NBA comparison
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.

Draft projection 
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.

The Sixers should not trade Ben Simmons

The Sixers should not trade Ben Simmons

It seems like some people have a hard time quantifying just how good Ben Simmons has been in his young NBA career.

For comparison sake, let’s look at the two stars of the Eastern Conference Finals. Through the first two seasons of Kawhi Leonard’s career, he put up modest numbers, averaging 9.8 points per game. Giannis Antetokounmpo, this year’s likely MVP, averaged the identical number of points through his first two seasons.

Leonard was surrounded by Hall of Famers so he was just in a supporting role. In Antetokounmpo’s case, the Bucks just weren’t very good so not much was asked of him.

Simmons has outperformed both players through two years and has at times carried a team that’s won 50 games in back-to-back seasons. Yet as we enter the offseason, there are people who actually want to trade him.

He’s 22. He’s an All-Star. He has NBA All-Defensive team potential. He possesses skills that few have ever had at his size. So the next logical step is … trade him?

Yeah, totally.

Some of this speculation began because of an article our good friend Tom Haberstroh wrote. A Western Conference executive told our NBC Sports NBA Insider that the Sixers “very well might explore” the idea of trading Simmons for LeBron James. Sure, if there’s a chance to land the greatest player maybe ever, you “explore” it. But the idea just doesn’t add up, as Haberstroh ultimately alluded to.

"The safe money is that the Sixers brings the Philadelphia Phive back for redemption," Haberstroh writes. "The opinion here is that Simmons is too good and too young to bail on now."

Plus, Simmons will be eligible to sign his rookie max extension. If the Sixers are able to do so, it’ll keep Simmons in Philadelphia for the next six seasons. So what’s better, continuing to build around Joel Embiid AND Ben Simmons for the next half decade — at least — or go all-in on LeBron, who may not be thrilled to be traded here, for the next two years?

You can look at his numbers from a historical perspective compared to guys like James or Magic Johnson, but that doesn’t even properly enumerate what Simmons has done. This was his second year ever playing point guard. Not in the NBA, but of his entire basketball life. What he can do at 6-foot-10 doesn’t even make sense. 

He’s also used that length and freakish athleticism to become an improved and imposing defender. It’s not crazy to think that Simmons has Defensive Player of the Year potential. How many people were saying that about Leonard, who’s won the award, or Antetokounmpo after Year 2?

Simmons has one fatal flaw in his shot. It’s no secret that it’s the one thing likely keeping him from ascending from All-Star to All-NBA. Simmons was his usual reticent self when asked about how he’d work on his shot this offseason during exit interviews last week. 

Brett Brown provided the most insight.

If I’m sitting in front of you and he’s 26, I think the conversation would probably be a little bit more disingenuous,” Brown said last week. “It’s going to be this discussion for probably a few years where none of you are going to be happy if he’s not cranking out 10 15-footers a game. … And Ben knows this, too. But I stand by that this isn’t going to be the thing that defines him immediately. It will, at some point, for sure. And I feel like this year with Jimmy [Butler] having the ball and us putting him in different floor spots, he’s shown the versatility that we should all be thrilled with at age 22 and 6-foot-10, that I can use him in different areas.

That playoff loss to Toronto stung. Offensively, Simmons gave the Sixers very little outside of a virtuoso performance in Game 6 to keep his team alive. As much as the shot is an issue, that Game 6 win also showed that Simmons still has more to give outside of that. Because of his physical gifts, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that Simmons is still a kid trying to figure out NBA playoff basketball.

So do you look for the best offer for Simmons this offseason or bank on the 22-year-old All-Star figuring things out and developing a shot in the next six years?

Playing the long game paid off for the teams that drafted Leonard and Antetokounmpo.

And both of their current teams are where the Sixers want to be.

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James Ennis will decline his player option but could very well still return to Sixers

James Ennis will decline his player option but could very well still return to Sixers

James Ennis will decline his player option and become a free agent, his agent, Scott Nichols from Rize Management, confirmed Monday morning.

The news was first reported by Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium. Ennis’ player option was for $1.85 million.

According to Nichols, Ennis is seeking a more lucrative, multi-year deal. Nichols said Ennis, after being acquired by the Sixers in February in a trade with the Houston Rockets, enjoyed his stint in Philadelphia, and it’s possible he could return to the Sixers. 

“He’s built good relationships within his short time there with his teammates like Ben [Simmons] and Joel [Embiid] and has found a quiet leadership role there, too,” Nichols told NBC Sports Philadelphia.

Ennis talked at his exit interview last Monday about the close friendship he’s developed with Simmons, mentioning that Simmons talked him into getting a Cane Corso dog, the same type of dog Simmons has. 

Ennis boosted his stock during the postseason as a key member of the Sixers’ bench, averaging 7.5 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.1 assists in 11 playoff games. During the regular season, Ennis won the “tournament” for wing minutes off the bench in a landslide, beating out Jonathon Simmons and Furkan Kokrmaz.

“It was tough at first because it was unsure if I was going to play,” Ennis said. “Me and Jonathon were play one game, sit one game, so it was kind of rocky at first. But I got more games under my belt, got more comfortable, and it just took off like that. I appreciate the staff believing in me, Elton Brand bringing me here and Coach [Brett] Brown allowing me to play.”

At 28 years old, Ennis has already played for six teams. The Sixers, if they’re willing to offer a deal that Ennis and Nichols like, may offer the stability that’s been lacking during his career.

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