Zhaire Smith

Sixers to send Zhaire Smith, Marial Shayok to Delaware Blue Coats for start of G League training camp

Sixers to send Zhaire Smith, Marial Shayok to Delaware Blue Coats for start of G League training camp

CAMDEN, N.J. — Twenty-year-old Zhaire Smith, acquired in a draft-night trade last year by the Sixers along with a 2021 first-round pick in exchange for Mikal Bridges, won’t travel with the Sixers on the team’s upcoming road trip. Smith will join the Delaware Blue Coats when the Sixers’ G-League affiliate begins training camp Monday, along with two-way player Marial Shayok, a team spokesperson said after practice Friday. 

With Joel Embiid (right ankle sprain) and Mike Scott (left ankle sprain) questionable for the Sixers’ game Saturday against the Detroit Pistons, the Sixers’ second two-way player, center Norvel Pelle, will travel with the team.

The decision for Smith to go down to the G League does not come as a surprise. He didn’t play with the Sixers’ regular rotation players during the preseason and was inactive on opening night vs. the Celtics. Rookie Matisse Thybulle and Furkan Korkmaz are clearly well ahead of Smith at the present moment.

The context of Smith’s rookie year is also an important consideration. As a rookie, Smith suffered through a broken foot in August and a scary allergic reaction in September that led to severe complications and caused the 6-foot-3 guard to drop as low as 164 pounds. Smith’s jumper changed as he worked to return to the court, with his release moving over to the right side of his head when he started putting up shots with feeding tubes in his stomach.

He’s healthy now and has worked to tweak his form and restore his athleticism. In Brown’s mind, however, development is the immediate priority for Smith, who only played in six NBA regular-season games last year and was primarily a post player in his single season at Texas Tech. Smith played in 11 games for the Blue Coats last season before making his NBA debut on March 25.

“He’s expecting me to develop all around,” Smith said of Brown’s expectations for this season after the Sixers' preseason finale. “Last year we tried to develop, but then obviously I had the setback. He feels like this is my rookie year, like this is [about] development.” 

Brown gave a simple explanation Friday for the decision to assign Smith to the Blue Coats, and to wait before using any of the 45 days Shayok is allowed to spend with the Sixers as a two-way player between the start of Blue Coats training camp and end of the G League regular season.

Let’s just start with playing. They’re not on the sideline watching the starting five and the backup five play. They’re playing, and they’re all so young that if it’s my son, if I’m their coach, it all points back to how do you play. They’re going to be in an environment where they’re going to be playing more. The systems are very integrated; they’re very closely connected with a coach who was my assistant [Blue Coats head coach Connor Johnson]. … Same words, same system, same type of philosophy. It’s a great relationship and I think it’s beneficial for them. 

The Sixers have already made the simple decision to exercise Smith’s third-year option for the 2020-21 season. He’s still in the team’s plans beyond this year; he’s just not someone Brown sees as currently having a path to NBA minutes.

Smith’s high defensive ambitions are on hold — or at least the path to eventually reaching them is migrating to Delaware once more.

“Every goal he’s ever told me about what he wants to do has to do with defense," Sixers player development coach Tyler Lashbrook, who has a close relationship with Smith, told NBC Sports Philadelphia in June. “I want to be All-Defense. That’s what I want to do.’ Love it. Love to hear that. Absolutely, man. Let’s do it. That’s a fun thing to hear from somebody. Especially when he’s so young, to know that’s what he cares about is really something.”



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Sixers' vision of what Furkan Korkmaz could be shouldn't lead them to block out other options

Sixers' vision of what Furkan Korkmaz could be shouldn't lead them to block out other options

Before his team played its preseason finale Friday night, Brett Brown labeled the game as something approximating a dress rehearsal. But, unless a flurry of unexpected misfortune hits the Sixers before their regular-season opener Wednesday night vs. the Celtics, Furkan Korkmaz will not start, as he did against the Wizards in place of Ben Simmons (out with back tightness).

It does appear, however, that the Turkish wing will play legitimate minutes early this season. Brown seemed to confirm as much before the Sixers' 112-93 loss, talking about Korkmaz’s progress and resilience in glowing terms.

The Sixers declined Korkmaz’s third-year option last season, then ultimately re-signed the 22-year-old in late July.

I am [looking for him to contribute]. And I don’t want to be harsh about it — that’s what he’s gotta do," Brown said of where Korkmaz finds himself now after his struggles last year. "That’s part of life in the NBA. It’s not like he’s an established player. … This is not the league for the weak. 

“He should go to Europe if that was going to dismember his spirit. He’s great people, and he’s fighting to stay in the league, he’s fighting to get minutes — he’s fighting. … That’s the phase and the stage that the young man is at, and I give him credit for not blinking. He just didn’t go away. Now, here he is.

Brown’s answer was impassioned, and his words weren't bogus. But Korkmaz’s character and attitude alone don’t warrant a spot in the Sixers’ rotation. He started Friday for one primary reason — the notion that he is an outside shooter. 

Though Brown praised Korkmaz’s defense and his maturation, the Sixers’ head coach also said this:

“We’re always just trying to mine shooters. You’re trying to find and mine and help cultivate shooters. If he is anything, he is that.”

Korkmaz has, in fact, not been a good shooter at the NBA level. He’s shot 38.8 percent from the field in 62 NBA regular-season games, 32.3 percent from three-point range. After a 2-for-9 performance Friday, he finished 10 for 25 overall during the preseason, 4 for 13 from behind the arc.

The concept of Korkmaz filling a three-point shooting void after JJ Redick’s move to the Pelicans is, on its face, appealing to the Sixers. Korkmaz has a pretty shot; he’s done well in international play; he had an incredible July night last year in Las Vegas, scoring 40 points in a summer-league game.

Perhaps those hints of promise will translate to the NBA. However, if there’s an assumption that Korkmaz’s identity as a shooter makes him worthy of a rotation spot, it would be misguided.

There are alternatives in that mix for bench wing minutes, though they’re also young and unproven in the NBA.

Shake Milton, a two-way player last year, has played both at point guard and on the wing during the preseason. The SMU product, who averaged 24.9 points in 27 G-League games as a rookie, is a more advanced playmaker and a superior defender to Korkmaz. 

The 23-year-old told NBC Sports Philadelphia he hasn’t been given an indication yet of his regular-season role.

“No,” he said. “My job is just to come in and do whatever the team needs me to do. I’ve kind of been flip-flopping during practice. I’ve just got to do whatever the team needs me to do, bottom line. Guard and either make plays for others or be ready to knock down shots and score.” 

This time last year, Milton was returning to competitive basketball after missing summer league because of a stress fracture in his back. He acknowledged Friday night he feels more explosive, and he’s looked it, showing off a burst on the fast break that wasn’t present early last season.

“I feel like it’s been a huge jump, personally,” he said. “For one, the confidence that I have out there, my body feels good, feel physically ready. I go out there with confidence, my teammates have confidence in me, the coaches have confidence in me. Just going out there and being fearless.”

Zhaire Smith, meanwhile, has been seen exclusively in garbage time this preseason. Just as Korkmaz’s shooting or Milton’s versatility might be attractive to Brown, one would think Smith’s “pogo stick” athleticism and penchant for on-ball defense could boost his stock.

That hasn’t been the case, with Smith’s novel of a rookie year — one that included a broken foot, a severe allergic reaction and jumpers with tubes in his stomach — putting him behind Milton and Korkmaz at the moment, in Brown’s eyes.

“He’s expecting me to develop all around,” Smith said Friday of Brown’s expectations. “Last year we tried to develop, but then obviously I had the setback. He feels like this is my rookie year, like this is [about] development.” 

The perspective that this season should be centered on learning and personal growth for Smith is fair enough. So is the idea that Korkmaz might have unique value for the Sixers. 

He hasn’t delivered it yet, though. The Sixers would, in this writer’s view, be wise not to let their vision of his potential block out other options. 

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Zhaire Smith promoting PUMA basketball with appearance in West Philly

Zhaire Smith promoting PUMA basketball with appearance in West Philly

In recent memory, PUMA has thrived as a lifestyle shoe.

But with Jay-Z as creative honcho of the team’s reinvigorated basketball division, things have changed. 

Sixers guard Zhaire Smith is one the many new faces of their basketball arm which includes DeMarcus Cousins, Terry Rozier and 2018 No.1 overall pick DeAndre Ayton, among others. In fact, Smith and Marvin Bagley III are the first two basketball players signed to PUMA since the best dunker in history signed with the brand in 1998. 

PUMA is ramping up their visibility in the sneaker community ahead of the NBA’s opening night later this month — many brands are doing the same — with athletes pumping their shoes through various appearances and interactions with fans.

You can catch Smith in West Philly this Saturday as he promotes the PUMA Clyde Hardwood shoe at the Footlocker & Puma Lab at 38 S. 52nd Street, near the corner of 52nd & Chestnut. You can challenge Smith to a game of NBA 2K and you can get a PUMA basketball with the purchase of one of the Clyde Hardwood kicks. 

Smith was one of the first to rock the Clyde Court Disrupt when they debuted last season after signing a mult-year deal with PUMA. Smith is expected to be at the 52nd street Foot Locker between 2-4 p.m. and he might be in an even better mood than normal since the Sixers picked up his option.

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