Can Zhaire Smith become a star for the 76ers?

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The 76ers took a gamble when they traded Mikal Bridges to the Suns in exchange for Zhaire Smith. Bridges was a proven player, having won 2 NCAA Championships with Villanova and posting 17.7 points and 5.3 rebounds in his final year with the team. Despite his accomplishments, the team decided to go with Zhaire Smith, who is still in the early stages of his development. Being nearly 3 years younger than Bridges, Smith has a ton of potential for improvement, something that the 76ers really value.

“The fact that he has a foundation that is incredibly unique in his relation to his athleticism. The foundation that he has in his character, the foundation that he has in his defense, the incredible growth that we are seeing in his shot. His ability to create his own shot…..We believe entirely in time he has the ability to be incredibly unique, maybe even great,” said Brett Brown when asked about what he saw in Zhaire Smith. “The city of Philadelphia is going to love him because of his complete competitiveness, his athleticism and his toughness. He is bred for the city of Philadelphia.”

Not only did Brett Brown gush about Smith’s character and athleticism but he even compared him to Kawhi Leonard, a player Brett Brown used to coach. “There are some similarities with athleticism…..I think that with a base that’s really special, very unique. Some of those qualities that Kawhi had when we first had him in San Antonio. I do see parts of that in Zhaire.”

That’s high praise coming from a man who actually worked with the 2x Defensive Player of the Year and Finals MVP.  Leonard has established himself as one of the best players in the league. He certainly didn’t start out that way but his work ethic and determination got him to where he is today. That begs the question: Can Zhaire Smith become a superstar in a similar fashion that Kawhi Leonard did?

Smith certainly has the physical tools to do so. He’s 6’4, weighs 195 pounds and has a 6’10 wingspan. His size and length allows him to play bigger than what he actually is. He has an 8’4 standing reach and a 41.5 inch vertical. He is one of the best athletes in his draft class.

 

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We know he certainly has the drive and motor to do so. Smith was a 3 star prospect and wasn’t even a top 100 recruit before the college season began. After a breakout season at Texas Tech where he wowed fans and scouts alike with his highlight reel dunks and tremendous defense, Smith made it onto the national scene. He grew a reputation for being a hard worker who played with a chip on his shoulder. Smith propelled himself from the bottom of the barrel of prospects into the first round of the NBA Draft. With the work ethic he has and the tools available to him in the NBA, there is no doubt that he can blossom into something special.

Not only is Smith an incredible athlete and defender, but he’s also shown flashes of some playmaking potential. Check out these clips from his Summer League stint.

On top of everything else, he has the potential to become a good perimeter shooter. He shot 45% from 3 point range in a small sample size (18 of 40) at Texas Tech. According to Brett Brown, Zhaire Smith’s jumper is better than some might believe. If that’s the case, that will definitely help move his development a lot quicker. If not, that’s ok. Many players have continuously improved their jumpshots as their careers progressed such as Jason Kidd, Kyle Lowry and LeBron James, who are all All-Stars.

Smith has some obvious limitations like scoring off the dribble and creating his own shot. His handles aren’t the tightest and he’s not going to be much of a threat in isolation situations. These are all issues that Kawhi Leonard had when he came into the league.

It isn’t crazy to think that Zhaire Smith can’t develop into an elite two-way play in a similar way that Kawhi Leonard did. He has the physical tools and motor to do so. With the help of Brett Brown and the rest of the Sixers staff and players helping him out, Smith could become the star that Brett Brown envisioned when he traded for him.

 

Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

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