CAMDEN, NJ - JUNE 22: Head coach Brett Brown of the Philadelphia 76ers introduces Zhaire Smith and Landry Shamet during a press conference on June 22, 2018 at the 76ers Training Complex in Camden, New Jersey.
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Draft 2018 | "Unique," "Special" Talent Knows He Has Work to Do

by Brian Seltzer Reporter

In Zhaire Smith, the 76ers believe they drafted a prospect who boasts a foundation that’s “really special,” and “very unique,” to borrow words from Brett Brown.

The team also realizes that patience will likely need to go hand-in-hand with the Texas Tech product’s great promise as well.

During his 37-game debut collegiate campaign, Smith flashed plenty of NBA upside, particularly in respect to athleticism and defense.

A pair of workouts in Camden earlier this month further confirmed many of the club’s auspicious hunches, and reassured Brown and his fellow decision-makers that Smith’s long-range shooting is headed in the right direction. 

When Brown met with Smith one-on-one, the personal connection he felt was strong, and comfortable.

Bundle all of those encouraging factors together, and it tells part of the story of why Brown was willing to sign off on a trade that sent Smith, originally selected by Phoenix at no.16, to the Sixers.

The other part, of course, has to do with the precious unprotected 2021 first-round pick that came in the deal, too.  

But for as much talent as the Sixers think there is in Smith, they know his game still needs refinement. 

If only Smith were going to a franchise that has a proven player development track record...

“If he is anything, he is an A-plus athlete,” Brown said of Smith, who ranked 10th in the Big 12 in blocks (42), sixth in defensive rating (95.1), and received conference all-defensive team honors as a freshman. “Then, you take that defensive toughness in the city of Philadelphia, and if that also could translate into a reliable to good to very good 3-point shooter who can play off a live ball, that’s a modern day NBA player.”

More specifically, a modern day NBA 3-and-D wing man who can play on the perimeter.

Since the Sixers acquired Smith, Brown has been given several chances to name someone other than Kawhi Leonard when asked who Smith reminds him of.

Each time, though, Brown has referenced Leonard, the San Antonio Spurs’ two-time All-Star, two-time Defensive Player of the Year, and 2014 NBA Finals MVP.

“There are some similarities with his length. 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,” said Brown, who coached Leonard from 2011 through 2013.

Smith has no problems with the comp.

“It makes me feel great,” Smith said Friday, during his introductory press conference. “That’s one of my favorite players. That’s a good comparison.”

In the same breath, however, Brown spoke in practical terms.

“In general, he's going to be a work in progress. I think that there is lots to do.”

Many will point first to Smith’s 3-point shooting, for which, at the college level, there was a relatively small sample size. He went 18 for 40 from outside the arc (you can probably recall those numbers in your sleep by now).

But the Sixers are bullish on Smith’s long-term potential from beyond. They used video technology built into the infrastructure of their training complex to closely study Smith’s 3-point trajectory, and the results were good.

At the next level, Smith’s simply excited to fine-tune his all-around game.

Brown said that performance will dictate playing time, which Smith appeared to be perfectly fine with.

“I’m just coming here putting my work in, and let that play out.”

As Brown said, “There needs to be a reality of patience.” Put a different way, he understandably feels that Smith and his fellow 2018 draftees shouldn’t be expected to solve the world’s problems on Day One.

If Smith could, at the very least, lend a helping hand in some way, shape or form, the Sixers seem to think they’ll be in a desirable spot.

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