Despite (essentially) being the Sixers’ first-round pick in 2018, two years later and Zhaire Smith has made little to no impact within the organization. He’s played in just 13 actual NBA games and has been frequently included in hypothetical trade packages by fans and reporters alike. With his team option already picked up for the 2020-21 season, what exactly does the future hold for the 21-year-old shooting guard?
The 76ers initially drafted Philadelphia native Mikal Bridges in 2018, but later opted to trade him to the Phoenix Suns in exchange for Smith and a future first-round pick. Smith was an explosive athlete in college, and many scouts projected him to have a super high ceiling.
Unfortunately, Smith’s rookie season was plagued with disaster. He broke his foot in early August (required surgery) and then went under extensive hospital treatment as he battled with a life-threatening allergic reaction. Smith spent the majority of the 2018-19 season confined to a hospital bed, however, he was able to make his official basketball debut on March 1 for the Delaware Blue Coats.
After regaining a good chunk of the weight he lost, the 76ers organization was content in calling this current season Smith’s “actual” rookie year. Playing almost exclusively in the G-League, Smith averaged 13.5 points per game (28 games).
Zhaire showed some flashes of his old self this past year. Operating primarily as a slashing guard, it was clear his athleticism was finally starting to come back. His improved quickness and agility also began to show the potential for him to develop into an above-average defender.
While Smith does appear to be trending in the right direction, his future fit with the 76ers has been called into question. He’s not necessarily the floor-spacer that the Sixers could use coming off the bench (1.6 3PM), and his “rawness” as a player leaves the team in a spot where they are counting on him to rapidly develop.
It’s no secret the organization wants to win now, and they haven’t been shy about trading away young talent to get established role players (Landry Shamet, Robert Covington, etc).
Ultimately, if an impact trade this offseason rests on Zhaire Smith being included, I would expect him to be shipped out without question. However, if the 76ers opt to keep the young G-Leaguer around, transitioning him into a backup combo-guard role is the best plan moving forward. The Sixers have had a hole at backup PG for a few years now, and rotating in Zhaire at the spot next season likely improves the position.
A future group of Zhaire, Shake Milton, Matisse Thybulle, and Furkan Korkmaz to compliment the established stars already in place is definitely something to be quietly excited about.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports