This is the twelfth (12th) installment in a series of regular postings on draft prospects. This series will take a look at the top draft prospects for the 2018 NBA Draft in June. The plan is to have one or two a week, leading up to a flurry of activity the week of the draft.
School - Class
Age at time of draft
6’4" (with shoes)
Max Vertical Jump
Average Mock Draft rank
Victor Oladipo (6'4¼", 213 pounds, 6'9¼" wingspan)
Last year as an unheralded recruit from Garland, Tx, Zhaire Smith was choosing between Texas Tech, Kansas State, Texas, and Georgia Tech. He was not ranked in ESPN's top 100 recruits. He was not ranked in Rivals150; and he ranked only 233rd in 247Sports recruit rankings. In other words, he wasn't a highly sought after 5-star recruit and certainly not a one-and-done candidate. He was instead a nice, 3-star player that might eventually become a starter for a major college program.
Fast forward a year and Smith is now considered the second best Shooting Guard prospect in the draft and is expected to be drafted in the top 16 picks. Three mock drafts have him going to the Wizards at #15, while six other mocks have him drafted #16 by the Suns.
So how did a non-ball dominant off-guard, who rarely shoots and only averaged 11.3 points per game manage to woo scouts and General Managers and shoot up the draft boards? It's all about upside.
At only 6'4", Smith is slightly undersized for a Shooting Guard in the NBA, but he makes up for it with very good length (6'9¾" wingspan). He is one of the most athletic prospects in this draft. He's got a very quick first step and is easily able to get by defenders. His lateral quickness is impressive, and he's got quick hands and quick feet. He is an explosive vertical leaper (41.5" max vertical) with an extremely quick second (and third) jump ability. And he's FAST! Timed at the NBA draft combine, Smith was one of the top 5 fastest players in the three quarters sprint in the last ten years.
Sometimes there is a difference between the kind of athleticism that is measured at the NBA draft combine, and "in-game" athleticism. Some players are unable to convert those elite athletic measurements to meaningful actions on a basketball court during a real game. Zhaire Smith is NOT one of those kind of players. If anything, his combine measurements don't accurately reflect how really athletic and explosive he is on the court.
Except for his high-flying dunks, that athleticism shows up mostly on defense. Smith is a very good defensive player. He is always in a good defensive stance; low and wide, knees bent, on the balls of his feet, hands up. His energy level is high throughout the game, and he doesn't "take plays off". He's got active hands (1.5 steals per 36 minutes), plays the passing lanes well, and can defend without fouling. He's also a pretty decent rebounder (6.4 per 36 minutes), especially on the offensive boards.
His quickness and speed show up in a variety of ways; including closing out on shooters; quickly switching on pick-and-rolls; rotations; help and recover, etc. He can occasionally be beat one-on-one with a quick first step, but he never is completely out of the play because of his shot blocking ability (1.4 blocks per 36 minutes).
Smith has great timing blocking shots and is really good at chasedown blocks; but most of his blocks come at the rim. He's terrific at weak side help, rotating back to protect the rim. He had some tremendous, breathtaking blocks - looking like a rim-protecting center at times. Actually, he WAS a rim-protecting center in high school.
Offensively, on the other hand, Smith is still fairly raw. As you would expect from an elite athlete, he gets a lot of his points on energy and hustle plays: offensive putbacks, alley-oop dunks, transition, etc. So he was a very efficient offensive player for Texas Tech (62.2% True Shooting Percentage). The rest of his offensive game is either missing, still in its infancy, or needs work.
Smith's jump shot looks good. His mechanics are sound and he gets great height on his jumper. His release is good, if a bit slow. He gets good arc and rotation on the ball. He's an OK Free Throw shooter (72%). The problem is that he just didn't shoot much at Texas Tech. He played Center in high school and never even attempted a 3-point shot until his Senior season. Even still, he shot 45% from three this year on limited attempts. So while his shot is sound mechanically, and he shot a good percentage, he is a reluctant shooter. I watched him pass up open shot after open shot - seemingly not trusting his jumper. That started to change a bit towards the second half of the season, and he would shoot when he was wide open - but he still didn't shoot enough in my opinion. He only shot 40 three pointers all year - hardly a large enough sample size to come to any conclusions.
He needs to improve his ball-handling. He can pound a couple of dribbles to gather inside and go up for a dunk. He can take a couple of straight line dribbles towards the rim. But that's about it. Like his jump shot, he looks very uncertain dribbling the basketball. He is a willing passer, but his ability to create for others is severely limited by his inferior ball handling.
- Elite athleticism
- Very good length. Good frame, strength.
- Excellent Basketball IQ, instincts, feel.
- Good motor. Effort level.
- High ceiling. Upside.
- Very good individual and team defender.
- Excellent shot blocker.
- Raw offensively.
- Reluctant shooter. Needs confidence in 3-point shot.
- Ball-handling ability and play-making skills
Texas Tech's elite-8 run this year certainly didn't hurt Zhaire Smith's resume, but his game will look much better in the NBA with it's increased spacing and better passers. He really got after it on the defensive end this year and showed off his tremendous athleticism with a couple of "WOW" plays just about every game. He's got potential as a spot up shooter and that should be where he should spend the bulk of his time developing his game; at least early on in his career.
Smith has the IQ, motor, rebounding, defense and athleticism that teams value today. If he can develop his perimeter shot into a weapon, and improve his play-making skills, he would have all the makings of a truly special two-way player.
Fit for the Wizards
Zhaire Smith’s offensive game is not yet NBA ready. However Smith would give the Wizards exceptional perimeter defense and much needed athleticism. He, along with Tomas Satoransky and Kelly Oubre, Jr. would give the Wizards a bench capable of locking down the perimeter - and that would be very important because I'm not sure how that group would score. Zhaire Smith has a much higher ceiling, but if I were forced to make a tough decision, I would take Khyri Thomas or Shai Gilgeous-Alexander over Smith because they would be ready to contribute much sooner.
A 360-degree alley oop dunk in the NCAA Tournament?
Are you kidding me?
Zhaire Smith does it all in the NCAA Tournament against Florida
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