Zhaire Smith’s athletic prowess is on full display at MGM Resorts NBA Summer League, and it must be a huge relief to him to be bouncy once again.
It hasn’t always been this way during his time as a pro. During his rookie season, Smith certainly experienced his own twists and turns. Despite showing solid promise out of Texas Tech, a foot fracture and a thoracoscopy (made necessary due to an allergic reaction) not only delayed his time to hit the court, but created doubt that he’d ever see game action in year one.
Before his chance finally came (he played in six games for the 76ers), it’s safe to say that Smith needed an opportunity to shake off some of the rust. He subsequently donned a Delaware Blue Coats uniform, relishing in his first taste of pro ball. He appeared in 11 games as part of an NBA G League assignment, averaging 7.2 points and 3 rebounds. Whereas some NBA assignees take the minor league by storm with high-scoring outbursts, this was more about finding his footing again.
“It was a good rehab. I got the speed of the game back. There are good guys in the G League. It was good competing against them to help me move forward to the NBA level,” he said.
Such a stint proved to just be merely an appetizer to what Smith can really do on the court. Seemingly growing more confident by the game, the young gun’s explosiveness has been electric at NBA Summer League. He’s wowed the crowd with some high-flying slams, but what’s been truly impressive has been his ability to read the defense. Smith knows when to drive through the lane, or kick out a pass to a teammate for an open look in transition. He takes what the defense gives him.
“Getting his strength back, as well as adjusting to the speed of the game, was important,” Blue Coats General Manager Matt Lilly said about Smith’s time in Delaware. “He was able to work on his all-around game. Obviously, there was a big emphasis on his defensive impact, but his growth all around—whether that’s attacking the rim and finishing or the ability to make the extra pass—has given him more room to operate offensively. We’re proud of his progression and excited about his future with the 76ers.”
If how he’s playing now is any indication, the future is bright.
Regardless of one’s status or situation, serving as a steady floor general takes maturity and leadership. A commander needs to guide its troops. Smith is not only excited to show off what he can do at full speed and strength, but he’s passionate about the game in general. Averaging 13.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and 1 steal in Las Vegas, it’s clear he likes to leave his fingerprints all over the place. Teammates can respect someone who oozes that kind of energy, regardless of what the numbers say. As Lilly reflects on the guard’s rehab stint of sorts, one could suggest that’s precisely why he gained fans at first in Delaware, and now, NBA Summer League.
“Zhaire’s a great kid and we really enjoyed having him in Delaware for his assignments. His work ethic really keyed his development last season. He just lives and breathes basketball. To see the drive that he had coming off his injury and getting back into playing shape was really impressive,” Lilly noted. “Most of our team in Delaware was at least a couple of years older than him, so for him to come in and even have those guys take note of how hard he was attacking his rehab and his return to play says a lot.”
If Smith began to speak during his stint with the Blue Coats, his continued progress with Philadelphia is proof he’s not done talking at all.