Zhaire Smith's 'freak' athleticism, jumper and more early impressions

Zhaire Smith's 'freak' athleticism, jumper and more early impressions

CAMDEN, N.J. — At Texas Tech and throughout the pre-draft process, people raved about Zhaire Smith’s athleticism. It’s one of the reasons the Sixers acquired him in a draft-night deal with the Suns. And after a few days at summer league minicamp, Smith’s athleticism continues to amaze his teammates. 

Smith, who officially signed with the Sixers Monday, will play his first summer league game Friday, at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN against the Celtics. The early impressions of his game should give you a decent idea of what you can expect to see.

'The dude’s a freak athlete'

Those were Landry Shamet’s first words when asked about his impressions of Smith. Shamet, the No. 26 pick in this year’s draft, said Smith’s athleticism can catch you by surprise.

“It’s sneaky,” Shamet said. “If you just look at him, you might not think he’s going to be freaky and get explosive right here. But he does stuff like [Monday] where he had a putback in practice where he just, boom, came out of nowhere. It’s kind of when you don’t expect things. I think that’s the mark of a really good athlete; it’s supposed to be a regular play and then he makes it a spectacular one. I think that’s Zhaire to a tee.

“One of the best athletes I’ve ever been around, and there’s a lot of them in this group. Zhaire’s a great guy, already getting to have a relationship with him. Good dude, plays really hard, really athletic, plays the right way. Going to be someone I’ll enjoy playing with.”

Delaware Blue Coats forward Cameron Oliver shared Shamet’s opinion about Smith’s special athleticism. 

“Zhaire, that’s probably one of the most athletic guards I’ve ever seen in my life,” Oliver said. “It was fun playing with him, showing him how things work … Just showing him the ropes.”

And if for some reason you thought those two guys were outliers, Demetrius Jackson also highlighted Smith’s athletic ability.

“He’s good. He’s really good,” Jackson said. “He’s so talented and athletic, and he can fly. He’s going to be a great player for a long time and he’s got a great base around him here in Philly to help him grow and develop. He’s going to be amazing. He’s a great kid too, so I’m looking forward to seeing him succeed.”  

How does the jumper look?

Given that Smith only attempted 40 three-pointers in his single season at Texas Tech, there are understandably some questions about his jumper. 

In person, you can’t detect any major flaws in Smith’s shot. He gets nice rotation and arc, squares his shoulders to the basket and follows through well. 

He also looks more comfortable than you might expect shooting the ball. Like pretty much all players, he’s best when his feet are under him, but his athleticism helps him make shots even when he’s not in perfect shooting position. This high-arcing three-pointer from behind the backboard is a great example. 

If anything, his release could be a little quicker and more consistent, although it’s a positive sign that he seems to be getting his shot off slightly faster than in college. Smith knows his jumper can improve, and he’s working on fine-tuning it.

“Just coming in, doing form shooting, continuing to try to be more consistent, that’s about it,” Smith said. “Continue to hold my follow-through. When I start missing, it’s just the little things — I gotta either breathe or use my legs.”

Smith acknowledged the shift to the NBA three-point line is “a big adjustment,” which is why he’s especially focused on using his legs. 

It will be interesting to see how Smith’s shot looks in game action, and to see how confident he is pulling the trigger from long range. All indications are that he has a solid foundation with his jumper.

Learning a new position

The 6-foot-4 Smith, who played at power forward in college, will play on the wing in the NBA. According to him, that hasn’t been a difficult transition so far.

“Just playing against quicker guards,” Smith said. “I’ve made a good adjustment. I’m comfortable playing the two and a little bit of three here in practice, but it’s not too big of an adjustment.”

Smith did show some playmaking ability in the portion of practice open to the media, finding teammates inside on several occasions, including one play Tuesday where he was double-teamed and dished it to Chris McCullough inside for an easy lay-up. 

He wasn’t perfect defensively, but lateral quickness doesn't look like it will be an issue. The one thing you can say with confidence after getting a short look at Smith is that he competes hard — he doesn’t take plays off. We still don’t know yet whether he’ll be a successful NBA wing, but at a minimum, he should bring energy and a few ferocious putback dunks off the bench as a rookie.

What to watch for in summer league 

According to Smith, he’s working on “my all-around game: shooting, ball-handling, defending, and just learning the game, building my IQ up.”

In summer league, we should see his unique athleticism on full display. For the Sixers, any success as a three-point shooter or signs that he has the tools to excel as an NBA two-guard would be a bonus.

Smith said he hasn’t set any specific goals for summer league.

“I haven’t put thought into it,” he said. “I’m just trying to win and just develop. Just have fun and play the game.”

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Sixers to host Blue X White Scrimmage at 76ers Fieldhouse in Delaware

Sixers to host Blue X White Scrimmage at 76ers Fieldhouse in Delaware

In what’s become a tradition, the Sixers will host their annual Blue X White Scrimmage on Oct. 5.

Your first chance to see the new-look squad will come at the 76ers Fieldhouse in Wilmington, Delaware, home of the team’s G-League affiliate, the Blue Coats.

In years past, it’s also been an opportunity for the fans to see the players in a more laid-back setting. The players that have been here have enjoyed participating.

They’re great. Our players get it,” team president Chris Heck said to NBC Sports Philadelphia. “Our players understand how important Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley is to the 76ers and they’re excited to get the season started. We open training camp on Oct. 1, and this will be the first chance for anyone in the area to see our players play in what we think will be a very exciting and winning season for the 76ers.

There are an awful lot of new players to see, including two-fifths of the starting lineup with Al Horford and Josh Richardson coming on board. It will also be the fans' first chance to see rookie first-round pick Matisse Thybulle and veteran pickups Kyle O’Quinn, Trey Burke and Raul Neto live as Sixers.

Part of the reason for the move to Delaware is to accommodate the demand for tickets. The 161,000-square-foot-complex held its first Blue Coats game on Jan. 23, and has also held Cardi B and O.A.R. concerts, plus large-scale corporate events and local high school graduations, in addition to youth camps and weekly academies for basketball, soccer, lacrosse and volleyball.

As the team has continued to improve, the need for more space has heightened.

It has grown in the sense where it’s harder and harder to provide as many seats to the demand that’s out there,” Heck said. “It was really important for us to move it down to Delaware this year because our fan base in the first state is so strong and so close to Philadelphia as well. This is the perfect opportunity to re-launch the Fieldhouse, by bringing Joel Embiid, Al Horford, Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris and the likes of all our team, including Brett Brown, back down to Delaware to launch our season.

The event is definitely fan- and family-focused. It will have an entire fan zone that will feature inflatable games, face painters, balloon artists and additional carnival games. Fans can also participate in an NBA-style combine. They can also win prizes from Chick-fil-A and TruMark Financial, receive free haircuts for their kids by Maestro’s Classic and register their children ages 4 to 14 for the 76ers Kids Club, presented by Five Below.

The Fieldhouse features indoor and outdoor, multi-purpose artificial turf fields, Titus Strength and Condition Center and Nemours Center for Sports Medicine.

If you’re looking to score tickets, you must sign up for the SixthMan Fan newsletter. More information on how to secure tickets will be communicated through the SixthMan Fan newsletter in the coming days. Both Sixers’ and Blue Coats’ season ticket members will receive access to a presale featuring a limited amount of free tickets. 

The Sixers are expecting a game-like atmosphere.

I think it will be exactly what it’s like during any of our games and any time our players are a part of the community — which will be loud and fun and energized and positive,” Heck said. “That’s why I think this city and the Delaware Valley as a whole has embraced the 76ers so much over the last several years. We are a team that represents the community and that’s fun.

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The legacy of Charles Barkley is present in Sixers' quest for title

The legacy of Charles Barkley is present in Sixers' quest for title

CAMDEN, N.J. —  With Charles Barkley having a statue unveiled on Legends Walk at the team’s practice facility Friday, there were plenty of living legends in attendance.

Former teammates like 2019 Hall of Fame inductee Bobby Jones and the ever-present World B. Free were there. Barkley’s first NBA coach and Hall of Fame player Billy Cunningham was on hand to say a few words. 

The craziest may have been a story about Barkley almost not even being a Sixer.

When we were getting ready to draft, it was probably the best draft I can ever remember," Cunningham said. "It was Michael Jordan, [Hakeem] Olajuwon, Sam Perkins, etc. And [then-Sixers owner] Harold [Katz] loved Charles Barkley. But the story before that was we had the No. 1 pick from the Clippers and a week or 10 days before that — Bill Fitch was the coach of Houston and the reason you have the lottery today is because of this — they dumped every game, which allowed them to get Olajuwon. So Charles, you might not have been sitting here if they didn't dump those games. We might have had Olajuwon or Michael Jordan here.

The next person to speak was current Sixers head coach Brett Brown, who has plenty of experience with … well ...

I can't believe that Coach Fitch dumped games to get high draft picks. Can you believe that, somebody, to get high draft picks, dumping games? I don't know what you're talking about.

After the laughter quieted down, Brown spoke frankly about Barkley’s legacy. Brown mentioned Barkley’s impact on his current team as it came out the other side of The Process.

While the idea of the Sixers getting to draft Jordan or Olajuwon would’ve been incredible, who knows if their careers would’ve wound up the same. Barkley landed in Philly and there may not have been a better place for him or a better player for the city of Philadelphia.

Barkley was fearless, both on and off the court. He never backed down from a challenge on the floor and wasn’t afraid to speak his mind off it. 

Fierce competitor — the attitude he played with, the hustle, it screamed out Philly. It is Philly,” Sixers general manager Elton Brand said. “And your DNA is still currently in this team today. When I'm thinking of team building, I'm thinking of heart. Players that don't back down, that are fierce. A player that's going to be selfless and try to win. So when I pursue a championship this season, you're still here — your DNA is still in this organization and in this current team.

Paul Hudrick

Brand, like Barkley, was considered undersized for the power forward position at 6-foot-8. All Brand did was get drafted No. 1 overall, win Rookie of the Year, become a two-time All-Star and have a 17-year career. At 6-foot-6, Barkley became a Hall of Famer and was one of the greatest power forwards to ever play the game.

All of that started for Barkley in Philly as he played alongside Julius Erving and Moses Malone. Barkley credits Malone with helping mentor him and forcing the man affectionately known as the Round Mound of Rebound to lose weight. 

Barkley’s hope is that the Sixers are doing that now with holding Joel Embiid accountable for his health. He also hopes that people in the organization are doing that for Ben Simmons, who Barkley said is "going to be one of the best to ever do it" if he improves his shot the way he saw Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan did.

Barkley still loves his former team and believes they’re a legitimate championship contender with their two young All-Stars leading the way.

The Sixers have everything. I put a lot of faith in Ben and Joel. Listen, let's be realistic, and you guys know this — the Sixers were probably a bounce of the basketball from being the champs last year. … Now, they're on everybody's radar. Joel was crying after the game, which let me know, hey, we all cry after games like that. But now I gotta get better. I love the addition of Al Horford. I love the addition of Josh Richardson. The Sixers got everything in place. Everything in place.

Part of the foundation Brand and Brown have built is based on the rich history of the franchise. Sure, other teams may have more titles but what the Sixers have is nothing to gloss over. This is the franchise of Wilt Chamberlain, Hal Greer, Cunningham, Dr. J, Moses, Maurice Cheeks, Jones, Barkley and Allen Iverson.

None of that is lost on Brown.

The statues that you see, I use often with our players to have a look at what you pass as you enter our practice facility. To be able to come into our practice facility and look up and see the banners that this organization has had the privilege of calling a 76er is truly breathtaking for me. Some of the people in the room — Doc's not here, Wilt has passed, A.I. — you can keep going. You go to many programs and you're just not having that history right in front of you. We appreciate, maybe more than you know, your legacy and what your brought to this organization.

Barkley talked about how all of the coaches and players that helped him from the projects in Leeds, Alabama, all the way to Houston, deserve credit.

Your life isn't just about you. Every player, coach from Leeds High School, Auburn, eight years with the 76ers, four years with Phoenix, four years in Houston — every coach and player I've ever played with gets a little piece of this sculpture.

And with Barkley’s legacy still present with the Sixers, a piece of a championship would be his as well.

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