Zhaire Smith is rising up the draft boards

Zhaire Smith is rising up the draft boards

by Caden Kinard

PLAYA VISTA — In a league full of explosive jumpers, Zhaire Smith flies higher than most. At the draft combine, his vertical jump measured in at 41.5 inches, third highest out of all the participants. For the former Texas Tech guard, his athleticism is outstanding and perhaps his greatest trait as teams evaluate him for June’s draft. However, the most impressive leap Smith made in the past year isn’t a dunk, but on draft boards.

Coming out of high school, Smith was a 3-star recruit. For reference, there are not 2-star or 1-star recruits. He grew up in Garland, Texas, which sits in the Dallas area, and was recruited almost exclusively by schools in that region: Texas, Arkansas, Kansas State and Memphis, among others. 247Sports, a recruiting website, listed Smith as the nation’s 199th ranked player, and the 40th-best guard in his graduating class. When he announced his signing, there was not much media coverage, with solely cell phone photos and videos posted, and only by those directly effected by his decision posting articles.

Yet, just a year removed high school, Smith is forecasted as a first round selection by nearly all mock drafts, expected to go in the 15-20 range. He leaves Tech as the Big-12 Newcomer of the Year and honorable mention All-Big-12 and was on the All-Big-12 defensive team. His ascent can be attributed to a vast amount of reasons, but why he’s improved so much is simple. Smith possesses an incredible work ethic, constantly discovering ways to better himself, and he knows what he must do to find a home in the NBA.

“[Teams] want to see ball handling and shooting,” Smith said, following his workout with the Clippers. “I believe I can show that.”

In the “Pace and Space” era of basketball, Smith will likely play more of an off-ball position on the wing. In college, Smith occasionally slotted in the power forward position, but standing at 6-foot-4, he’ll probably be more of a shooting guard and small forward. Throughout his entire freshman season at Texas Tech, Smith shot a promising percentage from three, connecting 45 percent of the time. It’s the volume of attempts that keeps teams skeptical, as he only shot 40 3-pointers total, making 18. In fact, Smith never attempted a 3-pointer in high school until his senior season, he admitted, expanding to explain that he played center earlier in his high school career. But, he’s optimistic that he’s grown as a shooter, and teams will see how much he’s developed.

“I shot well in my pro day; I believe I shot well here,” Smith said. “[I need] just to continue to show the team I can knock down threes.”

For the Clippers, Smith created an impression.

“Zhaire Smith, certainly his athleticism gets the fans on the edge of their seat, to say the least,” Trent Redden, Assistant General Manager for the Clippers, said “But to see over the last two months where his skill level has improved, he’s a tireless worker, so that’s fantastic.”

With all the pre-draft talk centered around questions about Smith’s offensive fit, defensively there are fewer questions. His quickness and basketball IQ are superb, and he guarded players at every position in college.Tech faced Big 12 rival Oklahoma and likely top-10 draft pick Trae Young twice.In those two games, Smith led the way in holding Young to 28-percent shooting on 11-of-39 total and he’s aware that defense is the avenue to finding playing time early in his career. When he was asked about the potential pairing with Clippers guard Patrick Beverley, Smith eye’s widened at the possibility.

“Oh! I can learn a lot, get some good tips and learn some of the hacks he uses,” Smith said, smiling.

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