Zhaire Smith – Texas Tech
CPP Big Board Ranking: #18 Overall (#7 SG/#5 SF)
Weight: 199 lbs
Age/Birthday: 19 (6/4/99)
Hometown: Garland, Texas
High School: Lakeview Centennial
(Brett Siegel – 6/15/18)
After being ranked #194 overall in the country last season as a recruit and ranked as the 40th best SG in the nation coming out of high school, Zhaire Smith could end up being one of the Top-20 players selected in this year’s NBA Draft. After coming in as the 4th best recruit in Coach Chris Beard’s 2017 recruiting class, there were questions of how much playing time he would see as a true freshman guard in a fierce Big-12 conference. Early on, Zhaire Smith saw around 20 minutes of play, give or take a few minutes, and it did not take long for him to see his minutes expanded. After his first 5 games, Zhaire Smith exploded against Savannah State in a 103-69 victory in which Smith scored 17 points, tallied 4 rebounds, and 5 assists. From this point forward, Zhaire Smith was seeing close to 25-30 minutes per game and was one of the Red Raiders’ “go-to” scorers. Zhaire Smith is not the type of guard to light it up from outside, but he is a tough, gritty wing player who takes it to the throat of his opponents in the paint. Although he stands 6’4” with shoes, he has a very long wingspan of 6’9.75” and used it to his advantage this season in Lubbock. Smith, in addition to being a force in the paint, was very sound defensively, averaging 1.1 steals/game and 1.1 blocks/game, as well as being a very strong shot-contester on the perimeter. With a few years of experience and development, Zhaire Smith could turn into a very strong two-way NBA player as a result of his potential.
Zhaire Smith has something you cannot teach to young NBA prospects; he has a high basketball IQ. When watching Smith play and breaking down film on him, it is clear to see that he just has a feel for the game and has a certain type of “swagger” where he seems comfortable at any spot on the court. He never hesitates on any play and always seems to be in the right place at the right time. This is not a coincidence! He is a very gifted wing player that is the type of guy to make those around him better because of his ability to space the floor and communicate. For a freshman in a new system at Texas Tech, Zhaire Smith looked extremely comfortable and was one of the vocal leaders all year long for the Red Raiders, helping lead them to the Elite-8 in the NCAA Tournament. Zhaire Smith is also a freak athletically. At this year’s NBA Combine, Smith tied for the second highest max vertical leap among all 69 participants with a 41.5 inch leap. He also ranked 4th in standing leap at 33.0 inches. From his explosive first-step, to his lengthy wingspan, NBA teams have all the confidence in the world that Zhaire can become a reliable two-way player. In addition to being explosive, Zhaire Smith is a solid passer and ball handler. Although only averaging 1.8 assist per game this past season, Smith is the type of player who is patient with the ball and passes up good, open shots for even better looks. This goes back to him having a high understanding for the game itself, but Smith is definitely a guy that can be relied upon as a passer as well.
On the other end of the court, Zhaire Smith was arguably one of the best defensive guards in the Big-12 this season, and he was not on West Virginia! Smith averaged 1.1 steals/game, 1.1 blocks/game and grabbed close to 5 rebounds per game. His instincts defensively are as good as any guard in this year’s draft class and with his long arms, he is a threat to block virtually anyone. At Texas Tech, he showed the ability to defend anyone 1-4 on the court and had good instincts and footwork when defending in the post. Although he will likely defend his position at the next level, Zhaire Smith has shown his versatility by having the ability to guard multiple positions. Having the tendencies he does on the defensive end of the court, Zhaire Smith could see time early with his future franchise’s second-unit and immediately have a defensive impact.
With today’s NBA game transitioning into more of a shooter’s league, Zhaire Smith must become more of a force offensively. No matter where Smith ends up, he will be a project offensively as he needs to improve on his shooting techniques and percentages. He shot 45% from deep this season at Texas Tech, which is a very good percentage, but only took 40 three-pointers the whole season. He made most of his points in the paint this season and did not showcase any pull-up jumper or mid-range game. Zhaire Smith also struggled at the free-throw line this season, shooting 72%, meaning there are “kinks” to be worked out with his release and follow through with his shot. At the next level, teams will force Zhaire Smith to take threes and beat them from deep offensively because when he gets in the paint, there is a high probability he is scoring. From outside though, Zhaire Smith is very hesitant at times and tends to stray away from shooting and looks for his teammates to make plays. In the NBA, this will lead to turnovers and fast-breaks for his opposition because they know he will be passing and can “jump the gun.” He is definitely not a #1-type option offensively and will need to put in a lot of time and effort during the summers to become a threat as a shooter. His upside though is the fact that he is a tremendous athlete, so while he will try to catch-up to others with his shooting, he will make up for it running in transition and scoring in the paint. Zhaire Smith has potential, but it will take time and patience for him to blossom into a threat offensively.
Player Outlook & NBA Comparison: Kris Dunn and Dante Exum
To me, Zhaire Smith compares the most to Kris Dunn of the Chicago Bulls and Dante Exum of the Utah Jazz. Kris Dunn stands 6’4” and measured a 6’9.5” wingspan at the 2016 NBA Combine. Dante Exum is a slightly bigger guard than both Dunn and Smith, standing 6’6” and also recorded a 6’9.5” wingspan at the 2014 NBA Combine. All three players possess that “lengthy wingspan gene” and both Dunn and Exum have been solid defenders in their young careers. In his first two seasons in the NBA, Dunn is averaging 1.4 steals/game and 0.5 blocks/game. He is also shooting 43% from the field and shooting just under 31% from deep. Struggling to stay healthy early on in his career, Dante Exum is averaging 0.4 steals/game and 0.2 blocks/game, but has shown the ability to be a good spot-up defender that is a good shot-contester. Shooting, Exum also struggles, shooting 39.5% from the field and under 31% from deep for his career.
Coming into the league, both Dunn and Exum had, and continue to have questions marks about their impacts offensively. Dunn is a little more gifted offensively than Exum is, but still is not an avid scorer. Zhaire Smith and Kris Dunn have a lot in common when it comes to their games as defenders and being explosive guards that tend to score a vast majority of their points in the paint. Both Kris Dunn and Dante Exum went #5 overall in their respective drafts, but I do not think it will be the same case for Zhaire Smith this year! I am anticipating a team trading up to acquire Zhaire Smith, but expect to see him taken anywhere from 14-24. With potential to become a solid two-way player in the NBA, Zhaire Smith is a tough prospect to not only pass up on, but to draft as well! He may end up being one of this year’s draft’s top “Boom-or-Bust” players down the road.
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