Zhaire Smith is one of the more interesting and unique players in the 2018 NBA draft thanks to his highlight reel athleticism, tenacious defense, and raw skill set. Projected to go somewhere in the middle of the first round, “Air Zhaire” is one of the more high upside / low floor prospects entering the NBA.
Height with shoes: 6’4”
Standing Reach: 8’4”
Body fat %: 6.05
Hand size: 8.75”
Max Vertical: 41.5”
Lane Agility Time: 33”
Shuttle Run Time: 3.15
Three Quarter Sprint: 3.05
Max Bench Press Repetitions: 10
|2017-18||Texas Tech||Big 12||37||21||28.4||4.2||7.5||.556||3.7||6.4||.574||0.5||1.1||.450||2.5||3.4||.717||2.2||2.8||5.0||1.8||1.1||1.1||1.1||1.8||11.3||9.60|
Athleticism - Zhaire is one of the most athletic guys in this year’s draft. He had the 3rd highest max vertical leap and the 2nd fastest three-quarter court sprint. Unlike some players (*cough* Andrew Wiggins) Zhaire does a great job of applying his athleticism on the court, routinely going above-the-rim to grab rebounds, beating players down court on the break, o elevating over the defense for a jump shot.
Defense - Zhaire can be a hound on defense. His speed, strength, and motor combine to make him a solid on-ball defender, capable of getting into the body of the man he is defending and shadowing them around the court. He’s somewhat stocky with a strong base which he uses to hold position against much bigger opponents. He also has the speed to catch up to his defender when he gets beat off of the dribble. As a help defender, Zhaire stays engaged throughout the shot clock, hunting for opportunities to get his hands into driving and passing lanes. His 6.4 defensive box plus-minus is comparable to Marcus Smart, although his defensive reputation is quite as high as Smart’s was entering the draft.
Incredible work ethic - Coaches rave about Zhaire’s work ethic. He entered Texas Tech expecting to be a four-year player, far off of everyone’s draft boards. However, he quickly gained traction as an NBA prospect and showed improvement in his game every month at the collegiate level. His work ethic and willingness to take advice make him the ideal “raw prospect with upside” for a team willing to take a chance on him.
Height - Zhaire looked about the same height as Gary Harris when I interviewed him at Pepsi Center after his workout for the Denver Nuggets. That’s taller than I expected given his 6’3” measurement without shoes. His wingspan and standing reach make up for some of his lack of height but one of the major question marks about him will be his ability to defend wings. The league keeps getting taller out on the perimeter and teams who are incapable of switching ball-screens place themselves at a major disadvantage. Physically, Zhaire is built similar to Marcus Smart - sturdy legs, long arms, and strong hands. But Smart is something of an outlier for players that size.
Raw offensive skill set - Zhaire is serviceable as a finisher, both off of cuts and as a spot-up shooter, especially when he is able to finish uncontested. He only took 40 three-point attempts last season as a freshmen but made 18 of them (45%). He has a bit of a slow release but his form on set shots looks balanced and smooth.
At the NBA level, he will enter the league with almost no ability to create a shot for himself or for others. His shot form, balance, and touch all falls apart once he is forced to put the ball on the floor, making him a very shaky pull-up jump shooter. His handle in general is far below NBA-level for a guard, something he will have to work on beginning day one. Despite his athleticism, he struggles to finish finesse shots at the rim when contested.
Fit on the Denver Nuggets
Zhaire is a really unique player. In some ways, he reminds me of Gary Harris. Harris shot just 20% from behind the arc his rookie season, showing little sign that he would quickly develop into an elite two-way wing. Smith is much more raw than Harris was but also stronger and more athletic. Like Harris, Smith seems to be extremely coachable and will likely improve as a shooter and finisher over his first few seasons. If he can become 70% the offensive player that Harris is while becoming a much more dynamic defender, he will be a nice piece to the puzzle for years to come.
Zhaire might not be ready to play in the rotation right away. Denver already has two young back court players in Malik Beasley and Jamal Murray so adding a third to the rotation probably isn’t ideal. If Will Barton is re-signed in free agency, Zhaire would become the fourth or fifth guard on the depth chart, likely spending more time in the G-league than in the NBA his rookie season.
There are more immediate needs for the Denver Nuggets but if Zhaire can develop his offensive game, he could be the type of player teams regret passing on in two or three years. A hype-athletic shooter and slasher who can guard four positions sounds like an ideal fit alongside Nikola Jokic but Zhaire will have to really work on his game over the next few seasons in order to get there.
What do you think of Zhaire Smith as a prospect?
This poll is closed
Love his game
I’m intrigued but not sold
He makes me nervous
He’s got bust written all over him