When news broke that first-round pick Zhaire Smith suffered a Jones fracture in his left foot, the collective reaction was unanimous.
Somehow, a Sixers’ first-round pick — whether their original pick or ones they traded for — has been hurt in each of the last six seasons. That just doesn’t seem possible, but here we are.
I know it’s easy to fall into this panic-mode type trap, but don’t do it, Philly. This type of thing has become more of a rite of passage than a career killer.
I liked Brett Brown’s draft-night maneuvering: He traded the more NBA-ready Mikal Bridges for more of a project in Smith and a 2021 unprotected pick that could prove to be an incredibly valuable asset.
And that’s part of the reason this injury isn’t a catastrophe like some of the rookie injuries before it. Joel Embiid was the third overall pick who had enormous expectations. The Sixers went on to win 28 games combined in the two seasons Embiid missed.
Before Ben Simmons suffered his Jones fracture, he was expected to team up with a finally healthy Embiid. Instead, he missed the entire season and the team won 28 games – an improvement but not great.
Even though the Sixers had their best season since 2000-01, No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz — the version they drafted at least — was clearly missed. His ability to create shots off the dribble would’ve benefited the Sixers greatly during their playoff run.
Which brings us to Smith. He’s super athletic, has strong basketball instincts and has the potential to be an elite NBA defender. With all that said, he’s spent his basketball life as a power forward and is learning how to play guard at the highest level of competition. He also just turned 19 on June 4.
The point is, while Smith’s ceiling is high, how much could he honestly help the Sixers? This is a team that won 52 games and a playoff series. How much time is a 19-year-old rookie who was the 16th overall pick and learning a new position going to get?
Just look at the Sixers’ roster. The starting five of Simmons, JJ Redick, Robert Covington, Dario Saric and Embiid was the best five-man unit in the NBA last season. That group will stay together. Then you’re bringing Fultz off your bench along with newly-acquired veterans Wilson Chandler and Mike Muscala. You’re also bringing back T.J. McConnell and Amir Johnson, both of whom provided big minutes off the bench last season.
The only person that really suffers here is Smith. While there is no timetable for Smith's return and he hasn't been ruled out for 2018-19, it seems highly possible given how cautious the Sixers have been in years past. While a redshirt year is far from the end of the world, it would be good for Smith to at least get his feet wet. It also probably doesn’t feel great to be the latest punch line of NBA Twitter’s “of course a Sixers’ rookie got hurt” jokes.
The Sixers’ rotation would’ve been tough for Smith to crack. Not saying he wouldn’t have played — and benefitted from playing — this season, but how big of a role would he have had? And his absence doesn’t lessen the expectations for the Sixers. It’s not like Vegas is going to drop the over/under on their win total because of Smith’s injury.
So while the “curse” of first-round pick injuries continues for the Sixers, so, too, should the winning from last season.