Philadelphia 76ers: Zhaire Smith could be the next Vince Carter

(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

Once considered option 1b, Zhaire Smith could add some eye-popping athleticism to the Philadelphia 76ers in the vein of Air Canada himself, Vince Carter.

Whenever Philadelphia 76ers guard Zhaire Smith is brought up in conversation, one thing pundits always seem to touch on is his A-plus athleticism, and there’s a reason for that: he’s an athletic freak of nature.

Standing 6-foot-5, 195 pounds, Smith often played out of position at Texas Tech, inconspicuously lining up at power forward for lengthy stretches of the time, but one reason the Red Raiders were able to pull this off and still finish out the season with a very solid 27-10 record was Smith’s ability to hold his own against the larger forwards of the Big 12. While he obviously had some issues when facing off against bigger forwards like, say, Texas big man Dylan Osetkowski, Smith’s ability to cover positions 1-4 on the defensive end of the court a la Robert Covington was an obvious boon to a team looking to play fast and shoot the ball.

But how was Smith able to defend the rim like a forward when he possesses average at best size for an NBA shooting guard?

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Oh yeah, because he can jump out of the gym.

Kind of like NBA’s ageless wonder, Vince Carter.

While comparing Smith to Carter may seem contrived at first, their Puma connection aside, when you dig into the stats the duo had almost identical stat lines in college, and could potentially develop into surprisingly similar pros.

Though Carter attempted far more three-point shots over his three seasons at Chapel Hill, both players knocked down about 55 percent of their shots from the field, and 70 percent from three-point range. This, when coupled with a very similar five total rebounds and about a block and steal each game, highlights a pair of players with very similar skill sets.

But the stats don’t tell the whole story.

From their shared ability to serve as a one-man fast break to their propensity to high flying, highlight real dunks, Smith looks like a variable Carter clone, and at the age of 19, he has the potential to get a whole lot better over the next few seasons.

Carter saw a major bump in all of his statistics from his freshman season to his junior season, effectively doubling his shots per game, three-point attempts per game, and rebounds per game while remaining a consistent threat to pull off a block or steal when around the basket. Could a similar bump in production also be in Smith’s future with some seasoning from one of the best player development coaches in the league?

Seems like a good bet to me.

While some initially disapproved of the team’s decision to trade hometown hero Mikal Bridges to the Phoenix Suns for Zhaire Smith and a 2021 unprotected first round pick, discounting the ex-Red Raider as nothing more than a rotational defender, if he can put it all together and develop into a hyper-athletic two-way beast, we may be looking at the next Vince Carter for the low, low price of the 16th overall pick.

Next: Brett Brown wasted max salary space

Philadelphia 76ers fans, Air Philadelphia has landed in the City of Brotherly Love.