Out in Phoenix, Mikal Bridges is shooting .350 from three-point range and the Suns’ defensive rating is about four points better when he is on the court.
In Los Angeles, Landry Shamet has shot .467 on 6.3 three-point attempts per game while averaging 12.2 points in 29 minutes per contest. In at least one respect, his performance has been historic. In 1,400+ minutes, he has a .616 true shooting percentage, which would be the highest single-season mark for any rookie perimeter player since at least 1946-47, which is as far back as Basketball-Reference.com’s database goes. The last rookie perimeter player to finish a season at .600+ was Brent Barry in 1995-96.
Here in Philadelphia? Well, on Tuesday, Zhaire Smith put on an NBA uniform for the first time. But progress is progress!
Needless to say, things have unfolded a bit slower for the No. 16 overall pick than they have for the other two players who donned a Sixers hat for the cameras on draft night last June. After suffering a broken foot in summer league play, Smith saw his rookie season completely derailed by an allergic reaction to something he ate, an ordeal that required two medical procedures and saw him lose upward of 20 pounds.
Now, with 15 games remaining, the Sixers have called him up from the G-League’s Delaware Bluecoats, and, on Tuesday night, the rookie out of Texas Tech was in uniform and on the bench for the opening tip of their game against the Cavaliers.
While this is certainly good news — as recently as a week ago head coach Brett Brown expressed doubt about whether Smith would reach an NBA court this season — Smith is an extreme long shot to enter the postseason as a member of the rotation.
“Anything that we can get from Zhaire will be an additional bonus,” Brown said. “It’s not anything I’m counting on. If it happens, it happens. I’m not expecting it at all. It’s not like there’s a sneaky drive to shove him into a playoff situation. It’s not that. Could it happen? Who knows. If he’s with us, anything could happen. But it’s not driven on that basis.”
The Sixers certainly have a need for the player that the team hoped he would be when they traded for him on draft day, shipping Bridges to the Suns for Smith and a future first round pick. The organization still envisions him as a future three-and-d player with considerable upside to develop the way Kawhi Leonard did after the Spurs selected him out of San Diego State.
But to work his way into a playoff rotation he’d have to prove a more dependable option on both ends of the court than James Ennis or Jonathon Simmons, whom the Sixers acquired during the run-up to the trade deadline. Smith’s health maladies certainly did not help his quest to develop an NBA three-point shot. He was an efficient shooter at Texas Tech, but spent much of his time in the paint and was regarded as a project coming out in the draft. In four games in the G-League, Smith was 0-for-5 from three-point range while laying 20 minutes per night. He was 9-for-19 from two-point range.
With Jimmy Butler sitting out and Ennis replacing him in the starting lineup, the Sixers saw an opportunity to get Smith a taste of the NBA atmosphere and give themselves an extra body, with an outside chance of getting him some run in garbage time against one of the worst teams in the league.
In other words, don’t read too much into Tuesday’s promotion. Barring dramatic unforeseen turn of events, Smith won’t be helping the Sixers’ title odds this season.