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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 hire Lindsey Harding as second female full-time scout in NBA from WNBA

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Sixers hire Lindsey Harding as second female full-time scout in NBA from WNBA

The Sixers have made a historic hire in their scouting department.

The team has hired former WNBA star Lindsey Harding as a full-time scout starting next season. 

"I think when you have this goal in mind, your gender shouldn't even matter," Harding told ESPN’s Ramona Shelbourne. "It should be about if you can do it, if you're good, you're experienced, if you know what you're doing and what you're talking about."

Harding, a Duke product and the No. 1 overall pick in 2007 WNBA draft, is just the second woman to be hired by an NBA team as a scout after a career in the WNBA. Jenny Boucek, who is now an assistant coach with the Dallas Mavericks, was the first former WNBA player to be hired as a scout back in 2006 by the Seattle SuperSonics. Becky Hammon, one of Harding's former opponents who urged Harding to pursue this path, was hired as an assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs in 2014. Hammon has since been interviewed for the Milwaukee Bucks' GM job and been promoted to Gregg Popovich's top assistant.

Harding completed the NBA's Basketball Operations Associates Program last season after retiring in 2017. The 34-year-old guard spent nine seasons in the WNBA and represented Belarus in the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

"Lindsey has quickly become one of the game's bright young minds in basketball operations," Sixers head coach and interim GM Brett Brown said to Shelbourne. "Having graduated from the NBA's Basketball Operations Associates Program last season, Lindsey is applying the same grit and basketball IQ she used as a player in her move to the front office. We look forward to the work Lindsey will do to help grow our program and further solidify a culture of winning.

"It's no secret how much I value the culture we've built in Philadelphia and how much a family-like atmosphere means to our program. Lindsey is a leader, and she is a welcomed addition to the 76ers family. I look forward to working with her."

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Metta World Peace tweets that Joel Embiid will win MVP next season

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USA Today Images/NBC Sports Philadelphia

Metta World Peace tweets that Joel Embiid will win MVP next season

Joel Embiid didn’t wait long to share his expectations for next season.

“This is my first year going into a summer healthy and I’m excited about it. I feel like next year is definitely going to be a type of MVP season for me,” Embiid said during the Sixers’ exit interviews just one day after being eliminated from the playoffs.

The summer months haven’t done much to curb the All-Star center’s enthusiasm.

“I want to win the MVP because if I play better I think the stats show that my team plays better too,” Embiid said during an interview with KweséESPN prior to this month’s NBA Africa Game. “That’s the goal. I’ve got to set the bar high if you want to go somewhere.”

You can’t blame the man for being confident in himself. And now Embiid even has the support of a former colorful NBA player in his own right.

Metta World Peace (or Tru Warier or The Panda’s Friend or Ron Artest) sent out a simple tweet earlier this week.

That’s about as cut and dry as you can get. Although World Peace did have another hot take this week that might call his crystal ball skills into question.

Whoa. You lost us on that one, World Peace.

Embiid has a much better chance at earning MVP honors than those two teams (mainly the Knicks) have of reaching the Eastern Conference finals. In Bovada's MVP odds released this week, the center came in at 16/1 (seventh best) to win the award.

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