It was a difficult first season for 76ers rookie Zhaire Smith. Traded on draft night to the Sixers after being selected 16th overall by the Phoenix Suns, Smith’s first season with the Sixers was marked by injury, illness and upon his return, relative postseason inactivity.
The 6-foot-4, 199-pound Smith, who turns 20 on June 4, is so anxious to get going that he wants to play for the Sixers’ summer league team in Las Vegas.
“I just want to see where I am at,” he said during Monday’s season-ending interviews with the media about why he wants to play summer league. “I am putting on a lot of weight muscle-wise and I want to see how I move with that and see how if I still got it, because it has been a while.”
Last year in the Las Vegas summer league, he averaged 7.7 points and 2.3 rebounds in 24.7 minutes.
Smith’s misery began when he suffered a Jones fracture of his left foot on Aug. 6 while in Las Vegas and participating in a camp run by Tim Grgurich, a longtime assistant NBA coach known for player development.
Smith was originally supposed to return around December, but had another setback – complications from a medical procedure to address a severe food allergy. If was first believed that he would be out for the season, but Smith began practicing with the Sixers G-League team, the Delaware Blue Coats in late January. Smith eventually appeared in 11 games for the Blue Coats, averaging 7.2 points and 3.0 rebounds in 22.6 minutes per game.
“The G-League experience was good,” Smith said. “I feel like I got my conditioning up and got better.”
He made his NBA debut in a 119-98 loss in Orlando on March 25. Smith only appeared in six regular season games, averaging 6.7 points in 18.5 minutes. His best game was the Sixers’ 125-109 regular season finale victory against the visiting Chicago Bulls, when he totaled 17 points and four rebounds in 31:53, all season highs.
In the playoffs, Smith appeared in just two of the Sixers 12 games, for a total of five minutes and 19 seconds.
Smith, who averaged 11.3 points, 5.0 rebounds 1.8 assists, 1.1 blocks and 1.1 steals in his one season at Texas Tech, is known for his athletic and defensive ability.
One of the questions heading into next season is whether Smith can be a member of the rotation. Coach Brett Brown for one, is confident that Smith can be.
“Do I think he can factor into next year? Yes, I do, yes, I do,” Brown said during his end-of-the-season press conference on Tuesday.
Brown first cited, Smith’s commitment.
“His perseverance and love of basketball is completely evident,” Brown said.
Brown feels the hard work will pay off the most in Smith’s shooting, which is the biggest question about his game.
“I think that is improving,” Brown said.
The biggest thing that could earn Smith minutes is his defense.
“There is the athleticism that allows him to play defense,” Brown said. “If we need to do anything, we need to play defense in this city.”
Smith said he isn’t going to take much time off, heading home to Dallas for a short while, but he will be spending a lot his time at the Sixers’ practice facility.
“I think it’s a huge summer for him and he understands completely,” Brown said.