Philadelphia 76ers: Zhaire Smith’s 2019-20 debut cut short by injury

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

After waiting all season to make his Philadelphia 76ers debut, an ankle sprain limited Zhaire Smith’s first game of the season to only three minutes.

When Josh Richardson went down with a left hamstring injury four minutes into the Philadelphia 76ers‘ 107-95 loss to the Toronto Raptors, it effectively shattered Brett Brown‘s wing rotation.

With the team’s depth already stretched thin due to a freak broken finger Joel Embiid suffered on the back of OKC Thunder center Steven Adams, losing Richardson through the All-Star break – and possibly beyond – the Sixers have had to dust off the cobwebs, take to the whiteboard, and craft some new looks using some of their less-utilized players.

But with every setback comes a new opportunity, and that couldn’t be more true for the 76ers’ young corp of players.

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In their first game without J Rich, Shake Milton earned his first-ever start as a pro, and his second appearance since falling out of the rotation back in November. While giving the second-year pro out of SMU the start over Furkan Korkmaz is a bit of a surprise considering how well the Turkish wing has played as the team’s sixth man, the move made sense in that it maintained continuity across the two units and allowed the team to maintain some semblance of continuity in a post-Embiid rotation.

But the real surprise of the game came at the end of the first quarter, when Zhaire Smith entered the game in place of starting small forward Matisse Thybulle.

It happened, it finally happened, after playing exclusively in the G-League over the first half of the 2019-20 season, Smith had finally earned a chance to prove his worth against NBA opponents – the Los Angeles Lakers no less.

Playing alongside Raul Neto, Furkan Korkmaz, Mike Scott, and center Ben Simmons, Smith almost immediately positively impacted the game with a dime 3 to Furky on the wing, all the while sticking with his man about as well as any 20-year-old second-year sophomore making his regular-season debut could ask for.

As the quarter came to a close, it looked like things were heating up for Smith, and he would actually play quality minutes in one of the biggest games of the year, at least until disaster struck.

Subbed out of the game at the start of the second quarter, Smith went to the locker room midway through the second quarter and was diagnosed with a left ankle injury – an injury that would rule him out for the remainder of the contest.

Sigh, the basketball gods giveth, and the basketball gods taketh away.

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While only time will tell just how long Zhaire Smith will be out with this injury, as he could be back as soon as Tuesday, or could be out for weeks like Josh Richardson, it’s an absolute shame that he will once again have to work his way back to full strength just when it looked like things were turning around for the high-flying youngster.