Zhaire Smith Is The NBA's Next Human Highlight Reel
This piece does not reflect the views of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Freshman, SF, Texas Tech
6’5, 195 lbs
College Stats in 2017-18:
37 games, 28.4 MPG, 11.3 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1.1 SPG, 1.1 BPG, 55.6 FG%, 45.0 3P%, 71.7 FT%
Where he’ll go:
Smith will be a first round pick
Zhaire Smith can fly. He’s one of those players who just hangs in the air like gravity doesn’t affect him. Watching Smith dunk is mesmerizing—he attacks the rim with a combination of ferocity and grace that you just don’t see every day, even in the NBA.
I’m calling it now, Smith is winning a dunk contest before his NBA career is over.
But it’s not Smith’s highlight reel potential that makes him such an intriguing prospect, it’s his defense. Smith is strong enough to guard small forwards, and fast enough to stay with guards, and his lateral speed helps him recover if he makes a mistake. He’s exactly the type of tenacious defender you want on your team to guard players like Steph Curry and James Harden.
Smith creates turnovers too. He blocks shots at an elite rate for a 6’5 guard, and he averaged 1.1 steals per game as well. He’s a smart help defender, and his ability to hang in the air throws off opposing players’ timing. He can rise up and alter shots from farther away than most players, and he’s fast on close-outs as well, and a great rebounder for a guard.
On offense, Smith is a decent facilitator, and he’s shown he can hit shots on offense, but his biggest advantage is going to be as an off-ball threat. Smith cuts hard to the basket, and his vertical ability adds a three-dimensional element to his game that literally puts him on another level. He’ll be able to catch lobs and finish put backs that his opposition simply can’t get to. Play him alongside an elite NBA passer and he could put up some numbers.
Where it gets a little rockier for Smith is his ability to create his own shot unassisted. He’s a good finisher, and he has a few dribble moves at his disposal, but he might have trouble with smarter defenders who can match up with him athletically. Smith spoke at the combine about becoming a better ball-handler, and eventually being able to play the guard spots as well as small forward, if he can do that he might turn into a draft-day steal.
Smith also needs to get more confident in his jumper. He shot 45 percent from three in college, but he only attempted 1.1 three-pointers per game. If Smith is paired with a coach who can help him get his shooting mechanics to a place that he feels more comfortable with, he could be a really great player. The thought of Smith with a knock-down three-point ability is scary. If defenders play him too tightly he has the ability to blow by them or go straight over them.
There will certainly be an NBA team who recognizes that Smith is a one-of-a-kind athlete and makes him their selection. NBA fans should expect to see Smith making Sports Center Top 10 lists regularly.