The Philadelphia 76ers rookie curse is very real. In 2013, the 6th overall pick Nerlens Noel missed the entire season due to a knee injury. In 2014 and 2015, third overall pick Joel Embiid missed both seasons due to a foot injury. In 2016, first overall pick Ben Simmons missed the entire season due to a foot injury. In 2017, first overall pick Markelle Fultz forgot how to shoot the basketball properly due to a shoulder injury. Year after year, 76ers first round picks missed extensive time in their first season and for Zhaire Smith, the 16th overall pick in last year’s draft, it was no different.
After playing in the Summer League in July, Zhaire Smith looked very promising, as he showed off his impressive athleticism and strong basketball I.Q.. The 76ers looked like they had a strong defender to help round out their bench. Then disaster struck… again. Like the past few years it seemed too good to be true, as Zhaire suffered a foot fracture during practice. After the surgery the recovery time reportedly was only 5 months or until around January 2019. Around November there came a rumor that Zhaire had had a allergic reaction to sesame seeds causing him to almost die, and in total lose around 40 pounds. Without Zhaire, the 76ers would struggle. The season started off well for the 76ers as they won games convincingly until they traded for superstar, Jimmy Butler. While Jimmy has helped the team immensely, the lack of bench depth became apparent. With guys like Mike Muscala and Amir Johnson leading the bench unit, there was no way the 76ers would win games from the help of their bench.
The biggest problem the 76ers have faced this year has been opposing guards absolutely torching our defenders. Robert Covington used to be the 76ers main defender against guards, and was certainly underrated in that regard. Ever since trading him, the 76ers let guys like Kemba Walker, DeAngelo Russell, and Kyrie Irving have huge games against them, dropping huge scoring nights.
The addition of Zhaire back into the lineup with consistent minutes is a must for the playoffs. Earlier this month, head coach Brett Brown made it seem as Zhaire would not have any playing time as it was just too late in the season for him to be reinserted into the lineup. However the past few games Zhaire has had a bump in minutes and has started to get some playing time. His skillset gives the 76ers a much needed defender on the perimeter, as his defensive ability has not taken a step back despite his injury. Going into the playoffs, guards like Eric Bledsoe, Kyle Lowry, DeAngelo Russell, and Kyrie Irving could give the 76ers a lot of problems. With Zhaire getting minutes, he could a stopping force that would give the 76ers a serious advantage.
The only issue with Zhaire is his offense right now. If Zhaire had played the whole year, he might been able to improve his offense and really become a force off the bench. With a lack of solid offense, he becomes a liability in the playoffs where every possession is crucial. If he cannot be trusted to make an open shot, he should not be getting consistent minutes unfortunately. However I believe Zhaire in the next few weeks could easily come up to speed, and show off his offensive ability alongside his defensive prowess. If the 76ers intend to make Zhaire a big part of team in the future, it is important to have him play now and learn.