Philadelphia 76ers: Zhaire Smith’s absence helps Ryan Broekhoff’s future

Ryan Broekhoff has a chance to make an impression on the Philadelphia 76ers.

When The Athletics’ Derek Bodner broke the news that the Philadelphia 76ers will be without Zhaire Smith for the restart of the 2010-20 NBA season next month, it felt oddly familiar.

While Smith has sporadically appeared in a Sixers jersey since his selection 16th overall in the 2018 NFL Draft, he’s fast fallen out of many fans’ favor for his lack of on-court viability and has been relegated a G-League afterthought overshadowed by his Blue Coats teammate Marial Shayok. By forgoing the remainder of the season with a bone bruise, any chance of an external change of heart has effectively been dashed, leaving Philly with a decision to make about his $3.2 million 2020-21 cap hit and fans with yet another reason to hate on the still-only-21-year-old off-ball guard.

But hey, when one door closes another opens, and in this case, Smith’s exit could very well give the newest Sixer, Ryan Broekhoff a chance to prove his worth and earn a long-term deal with the team moving forward.

Now just to be clear from the jump, Broekhoff isn’t getting Smith’s spot on the 15 man roster. Because his injury is preexisting as opposed to a personal opt out due to Covid-19, the Sixers won’t be receiving an injury replacement slot. In theory, someone like Kyle O’quinn (or any other player) could still opt out before the season starts or worse, someone could get sick while in Orlando and have to leave the team, but if things remain the same, Broekhoff won’t be eligible to play when the playoffs roll around after an eight-game end to the regular season.

With that being said, Broekhoff will be eligible to play in those final eight games and will all but certainly hear his name called with some regularity by Brett Brown to avoid burning out his starters after months away from organized basketball.

These minutes, whether dished out in garbage time at the end of games, weaved honestly throughout a 12 man rotation, or predominantly dished out in games where starters are rested, give Broekhoff a chance to showcase his fit in Coach Brown’s scheme – a scheme he played in as a member of the Australian national team – his fit with the team’s players, and his ability to make shots as a bench sharpshooter the likes of which Philly hasn’t had since Landry Shamet and J.J. Redick wore red, white, and blue in 2019.

Who knows, maybe Broekhoff will play so well on his two-way contract that he’ll earn a spot on the 15 man roster a la Norvel Pelle back in February but in my eyes, the Australian outside shooter -Crocodile Dun3, if you will – isn’t playing for that. No, what he’s really playing for is a long-term deal with the Sixer for the foreseeable future.

As I’ve highlighted here, because Broekhoff is set to finish out the 2019-20 season with the Sixers on a two-way deal, the team will hold his Non-Bird Rights going into free agency. That allows the team to offer him up to a four-year deal worth up to 120 percent of the minimum contract for his level of experience or in this case a four-year, $7.8 million deal. Is that a massive deal? No, but Broekhoff will turn 30 later this fall, was just waived by the Dallas Mavericks to make room for Charlotte Hornets castoff Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and has so little NBA experience that he’s allowed to accept a two-way contract. He’s friends with Ben Simmons, has a relationship with Brett Brown, and may be willing to consider playing out the remainder of his NBA career as a part-time shooter on a perennial playoff contender.

Or hey, maybe Broekhoff doesn’t play much at all, fails to make an impression on the Sixers, and looks elsewhere for a new oppertunity to continue his NBA career – that is, if he even wants to continue playing basketball in North America.

Next: Ryan Broekhoff could do wonders for Ben Simmons

Call me naive, but I’m actually really bullish on Ryan Broekhoff. His game reminds me a lot of Furkan Korkmaz with less shot-creating ability but a better touch from deep. If the Philadelphia 76ers assimilate into the organization, prove himself a reliable outlet option for Ben Simmons, and drain 40 percent of his shots over an eight-game sample size, he very well may remain with the team going into training camp this fall, it’s just too bad he won’t be doing so next to Zhaire Smith on the Wide Wide World of Sports basketball court in Disney World.

Note: Crocodile Dun3 is an amazing nickname if I do say myself. Fingers crossed Pro Basketball Reference adds it to his official nicknames.

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