Philadelphia 76ers: It’s time to try Zhaire Smith at backup point guard

(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images) /

After engineering a rousing comeback against the Summer League Thunder, could Zhaire Smith play some point for the Philadelphia 76ers in 2019-20?

If you turned off the Philadelphia 76ers‘ Summer League bout against the Oklahoma City Thunder at any point during the first three-quarters, you’d be forgiven, as the team put on one of the saddest exposition games I’ve had the displeasure of seeing in some time.

However, the fourth quarter was a completely different story.

With Shake Milton out after suffering a sprained ankle, the brunt of the team’s comeback efforts fell on the 6-foot-4 shoulders of second-year Texas Tech product Zhaire Smith and boy did he rise to the occasion.

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Leading the way with 18 points, five rebounds, and three assists, Smith didn’t just run the Sixers offense; he was the Sixers offense – dunking with relentless vigor both with the ball in his hands or as the recipient of a well-placed pass.

Needless to say, Smith should not only be a lock to participate in the 2020 NBA Dunk Contest, but an early favorite to take the crown back to the City of Brotherly Love.

But big dunks, man-on-man defense, and even 3 point shots have become fairly commonplace for  Smith over the summer, but his newfound ability to make plays with the ball in his hands is a new wrinkle to his game that could become immensely valuable to the 76ers as they turn their sights to the regular season.

Here’s why:

As things presently stand, the Sixers have three point guards on their roster going into 2019-20: Ben Simmons, Raul Neto, and recently re-upped Shake Milton.

On paper, that’s not a terrible trio, but when you account for Simmons’ propensity to moonlight as a power forward during the regular season, Neto’s inability to play more than 41 games a season since 2016, and Milton’s recent struggles to transition his G-League dominant point guard prowess to even the Summer League, Philly could swiftly find themselves without a solid backup plan before rotations shrink in the postseason.

Now sure, the 76ers could always look outside for a backup lead ball handler, targeting a recently released youngster like Frank Mason, an older vet like Jeremy Lin, or even try to pry a player like Frank Ntilikina, Matthew Dellavedova, or *gulp* Kris Dunn away from their current teams viatrade, but if Smith can somehow continue to diversify his skillset and dish out as many assists as he throws down monster dunks we could be onto something.

And what a transition that would be.

In college, Zhaire Smith actually played as an under the rim ‘big’ in Chris Beard‘s run-‘n-gun Red Raiders. With a lightning quick first step and enough hops to play above the rim despite his height, Smith averaged five rebounds, a block and a steal a game to go with 11.3 points in 28.4 minutes of action a game.

Oh yeah, and he did all of that while guarding the opposing team’s best player 1-5.

Now transitioned to his natural position off the ball as a Dunk-and-D shooting guard, Smith looks to serve as an instant offense spark plug coming off the Sixers bench as one of the team’s few hyper-athletic reserves capable of driving to the basket and picking up a quick, easy bucket.

Sure, there’s still value in Smith filling that role when paired up with a traditional point, but if he can (literally) take the ball into his own hands and run the show for Brett Brown‘s offense, Philly could add a whole new dimension to their offense the likes of which the team hasn’t possessed since Lou Williams wore a red, white, and blue number 23 jersey.

And unlike Lou Will, Smith projects out to be a really, really good defender.

Next. Landry Shamet is one lucky dude. dark

While one could argue that placing too big a load on a 20-year-old’s shoulders could be detrimental for his ultimate development, especially when he’s both learning a new position and mere months removed from the potentially life-threatening effects of a sesame allergy, if Zhaire Smith is going to optimize his ceiling as an NBA player, the Philadelphia 76ers need to see if he can ever develop into an even part-time point guard in addition to his off-ball duties.