Philadelphia 76ers: The case for keeping Zhaire Smith

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

After being included in a slew of hypothetical trade deadline deals, here’s the case for why the Philadelphia 76ers should hold onto Zhaire Smith in 2020.

The winds of change have descended upon the City of Brotherly Love like a polar vortex of near-constant rumors.

Since things really opened up back in December, when players signed over the summer officially became eligible to be traded, it seems like the Philadelphia 76ers have been linked to roughly… 90 percent of the players in the NBA, maybe more depending on who you ask.

And since the Sixers have been linked to a slew of external talent ranging from point guards like Derrick Rose, to wings like Bogdan Bogdanović, to big men like Davis Bertans, it’s only logical to extrapolate that a few current members of the team may be playing on borrowed time.

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Sure, there’s Mike Scott, the sixth-highest paid player on the roster who has yet to play up to that level in 2019-20, but other players like Jonah Bolden and Shake Milton have seen their names appear in article after article despite playing a combined 115 minutes prior to the Sixers’ game against the Toronto Raptors.

Just for context, Norvel Pelle has played 144 minutes in 13 games of action despite playing on a two-way contract.

But quite possibly the most intriguing trade piece on the Sixers’ 15 man roster is a 20-year-old second-year guard who hasn’t appeared in an NBA game since a four-minute run against the Raptors on April 27th: Zhaire Smith.

The 16th overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, Smith had one of the most unusual rookie seasons of any player in the NBA – and if you know anything about the Sixers’ recent run of rookie horror stories, that’s really saying something.

Between the obvious hurdles of having to transition from a peculiar role as a small-ball forward with the rim-running Texas Tech Red Raiders, and, oh yeah, a literal life-threatening allergic reaction to sesame that cost the then-19-year-old 20 pounds and months of rehab, it’s hard to really count 2018-19 as anything other than a wasted year for Smith, by no fault of his own.

By extension, it’s also incredibly hard to determine Smith’s trade value across the league, as he’s still young, has an intriguing set of skills, and at only 20-years-old, has half a decade to develop before hitting his NBA prime.

Could Zhaire Smith’s inclusion in a deal be valuable enough to help pry away an older long-term piece from a rebuilding squad? A player like, say, Rose, Bertans, or even our old friend Dario Saric (more on that here)? Possibly so.

Might others view Smith as nothing more than an undersized two guard who can make flashy dunks and play some defense, but otherwise lacks the ceiling of even a fifth starter? That’s also true.

Simply put, Smith’s value really lies in the eyes of the beholder, and could net Philly a pretty good player if they find the right deal, but, here me out, what if they don’t trade Smith at all?

I know, I know, crazy, right? I mean why wouldn’t the Sixers cash in a player who can’t even crack their less-than-elite bench rotation for a player who could average 10, 12, 15 points a game coming off the bench? Well fictitious fan, you make a pretty good point, and if I’m Elton Brand, I imagine it would be pretty hard to pass up an instant upgrade for a long-term project that may never prove fruitful.

Emphasis on may.

You see, Smith has now been a member of your friendly neighborhood Philadelphia 76ers for 19 months, so it would only be logical to assume the club has a pretty good internal scouting profile on Smith’s development as a player and as a man – more so than any external team who has only caught the occasional highlight or watched overall 111 minutes of Smith’s NBA tape.

The Sixers’ coaching staff also has plenty of first-hand experience watching Smith execute on their G-League squad, the Delaware Blue Coats. Now granted, just because a player dominates in the G-League doesn’t mean those numbers will translate to the big league, as the level of competition is different, the playing time is different, and the player role may be incredibly different, but the Blue Coats run the exact same system as the Sixers, so the plug-and-play possibilities are a lot easier to project.

Smith is also known for his defensive acumen, and as we’ve seen with the immediate success of Matisse Thybulle during his rookie season, defense translates to the game’s highest level a whole lot easier than outside shooting.

Thybulle is also two years older than Smith, despite having one less year of NBA experience.

And speaking of outside shooting, after only attempting 16 3 pointers in six games of action last season, and 40 in 37 games during his lone season in Lubbock, Smith has turned himself into a surprisingly reliable outside shooting option – hitting 26 of his 73 attempts on the season.

Granted, those numbers are far from prolific even on the Blue Coats, as 2019 second-round selection Marial Shayok has been far and away Delaware’s best player, but it’s still encouraging to see the second-year pro develop his game in real-time right before our eyes.

If the Sixers think that that development can continue and Smith can eventually become a 6-foot-3 combo guard capable of covering players one-through-three, it’s hard not to cash in that potential for an immediate contributor with a lower ceiling.

Next. Matisse Thybulle is in historically good company. dark

Is Zhaire Smith the next Avery Bradley, or the next Langston Galloway? Could he add some secondary ball handling to his bag of tricks and one day run a second unit a la Lou Williams? Only time will tell, but with two more years left on his rookie contract, it may be wise for the Philadelphia 76ers to find out first hand.