The Inquirer is reliving the 76ers’ drafts through The Process, starting with the selection of Joel Embiid with the third-overall pick in 2014. This is the fifth part of a six-part series.
You have to feel sorry for Zhaire Smith.
The shooting guard is a bad fit for the 76ers, who never gave him a real opportunity to showcase his skills. It’s obvious that their acquiring of him in a 2018 draft day shocker was a wasted opportunity for both parties.
The second-year player’s tenure has been marred by bad luck, as he failed to remain healthy and live up to expectations.
Smith suffered a bone bruise in his left knee in May and won’t travel with the Sixers to Orlando on Thursday for the 22-team resumption of the season at Walt Disney World .
As a result, the guy the Sixers unsuccessfully tried to trade in February will conclude this season with an average of 1.1 points in seven appearances. He has averaged 3.7 points in 13 career games.
That’s far from the output expected of a player coach Brett Brown said after the 2018 draft reminded him of Los Angeles Clippers All-Star Kawhi Leonard.
Leonard was with the San Antonio Spurs when Brown was an assistant coach there.
“There are some similarities with his length,” Brown said of Smith back then. “There are some similarities with his athleticism. I think that when you look at just where I believe Zhaire can be, there are some common denominators that Kawhi had when we first brought him to San Antonio.”
The first difference is that Smith stands just 6-foot-2, five inches shorter than Leonard. Smith was also an undersized power forward during his lone season at Texas Tech while trying to make the transition to guard. So he’s still considered a project.
That’s why the Sixers were vilified on social media and on local sports talk radio the moment they traded Villanova and Great Valley High School product Mikal Bridges on draft night to the Phoenix Suns for Smith, the 16th overall pick, and a 2021 first-round draft pick. That trade came 38 minutes after the Sixers drafted Bridges with the 10th pick.
With the 26th pick, Philly took point guard Landry Shamet out of Wichita State. In the second round, the Sixers traded their 38th pick (Khyri Thomas) to the Detroit Pistons for two future second-round picks.
They traded their 39th pick to the Los Angeles Lakers for a 2019 second-rounder and cash the night before the draft. And the Sixers concluded the draft by acquiring the 54th pick from the Dallas Mavericks in exchange for picks Nos. 56 and 60. They used the pick to select former SMU combo guard Shake Milton.
Milton turned out to be a second-round steal. Meanwhile, the Sixers sent Shamet and the 2021 first-rounder as part of a package to the Los Angeles Clippers to acquire Tobias Harris on Feb. 6, 2019.
Being able to use that 2021 first-rounder to acquire Harris takes a little of the sting off the Sixers’ 2018 draft-day trade. But no one can argue that Bridges wasn’t a better fit.
In addition to being the three-and-D player they coveted, the 6-7 forward is very familiar with the Sixers.
At that time, Bridges’ mother, Tyneeha Rivers, was the global vice president of human resources at Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, which owns the Sixers. She left in October to become the chief human resources officer for the Greater Philadelphia YMCA.
Her son has been a solid player for the Suns, averaging 8.5 points and 1.5 steals in 147 career games with 80 starts.
Meanwhile, Smith has spent more time injured or with the Sixers’ G League affiliate, the Delaware Blue Coats, than with the Sixers.
He suffered an acute Jones fracture in his left foot while competing in the camp in August 2018. Smith was expected to return from the injury that December. However, he remained out until March 25, 2019, because of a life-threatening allergic reaction to something he ate in September 2018. The reaction left him speechless and 40 pounds lighter.
He played in only six NBA games that season.
In two seasons, the former high school center has averaged 3.7 points and 11 minutes in 13 NBA games with two starts.
Even when healthy, Smith hasn’t received a lot of NBA in-game opportunities to develop into a solid shooting guard.
The team wants him to rest his knee in order to be 100 percent for the start of the 2020-21 season in December.