“I think it went really well.” Brett Brown said after the curtains closed on this year’s NBA Draft. “It was extremely active. There was a lot of movement. We stayed aggressive. We targeted people, been targeting people for awhile, and I think we were able to secure some of them and get picks. So I think the combination of bringing the people that we had sought and targeted and really tried to study as well as keeping the picks in the future moving, I think the draft went well tonight.”
Just weeks after the burner account saga, the 76ers entered the NBA Draft with plenty of firepower and a world of pressure. The franchise is coming off of an overwhelmingly positive season and one that saw them finally return to the playoffs. Finding the missing link to build on that season was vital. Would the team trade for an All-Star, or instead decide to groom one of their own?
Initially, it was local kid, Mikal Bridges, who the Sixers selected with the tenth overall pick, before flipping him to Phoenix in exchange for an unprotected 2021 first-round pick and the rights to Zhaire Smith, a player Brett Brown has likened to one Kahwi Leonard.
“There are some similarities with his length.” Brown explained. “There are some similarities with athleticism. I think that when you look at just where I believe Zhaire [Smith] can be, there are some common denominators that Kawhi [Leonard] had when we first brought him to San Antonio. In general, as I think I said in the beginning, he’s going to be a work in progress. I think that there are lots to do. I think that with a base that’s really special, very unique. Some of those qualities that Kawhi I had when we first had him in San Antonio. I do see parts of that in Zhaire.”
At 6’4, 199 lbs, Smith is a ruthless defender, but his offensive game could use some work. Shooting just 18-40 3-pt shots during his lone collegiate season and 71.7% from the free-throw line, concerns over yet more shooting mechanic woes loom large.
“I think Zhaire [Smith] is further along than other people do.” The Sixers Head Coach went on to say. “It is true what you say that none of us would that the shot is part of that group of three people’s game. It’s going to have to be something we continue to put work into. I think that Zhaire is going surprise us. I think that to put him into the growth that Ben [Simmons] has to experience with his shot or the difficulties that Markelle [Fultz] has experienced, he’s not in that arena. I feel that his shot is much further along. To your point, it is an area that we’ve got to continue to develop all of them and I think Zhaire, as it sits today, his shot further along than other people think.”
The Sixers may have pulled off a ‘process’ like move, giving them a huge asset that could come into play in trades or the draft itself. With the ‘one-and-done’ rule expected to be rescinded, a first round pick could be more valuable than ever. But then there’s the human side of things. The side that fans don’t see.
Bridges, a Villanova product whose mother works across the street from the Sixers facility, had the concept of staying close to his family and his home consoled one moment and ripped away from him the next. Someone who had been a part of such an incredible run of success locally would’ve been primed to enjoy the same at the next level. Brett Brown may have enjoyed 18 long years in the NBA, but that emotional connection as a general manager is just as important as a Head Coach. The reasoning for the trade however, was made very clear.
“Phoenix came in and offered a 2021 unprotected plus our 1B in Zhaire [Smith], who we value very highly, and you’re in a position that you’re on the clock and you really have a decision to make.” Brown said. “And for me, and all of us in that room, what also rules our day is a few things. First— and in this order—what is always best for the organization, I’m going into my sixth season with the Philadelphia 76ers and so what is best for the organization and how do you win a championship, how do you acquire things that can attract stars or develop stars? That pick might be the key to all of this, that pick might be the thing that links a possible trade, and we have our 1B in Zhaire and they’re very different, there are very different stages and so you ask a very open question and all of those emotions and all of those facts happened in a 20-25 minutes window, very different emotions, very different set of circumstances that resulted in the trade of Mikal.”
It was a circumstance nobody could’ve predicted, but for Brett Brown to take such an authoritative stance and make that call, exudes the upmost confidence in himself and the people around him and that it’s reciprocated. The Sixers have not wavered from their ‘process’ mentality and it appears as though the spirit of Sam Hinkie will live on.
While it’s way too soon to make any sudden judgement about the trade or how much growing room Smith has, one thing is for certain. The Sixers attacked last night with a very aggressive and intricate mindset that has set them up perfectly for future success…again.
Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports