Zhaire Smith out of Texas Tech is a name that rises up on a lot of people’s draft boards this season with his stellar play, especially on the defensive end.
This past season, Smith averaged 11.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.1 blocks and 1.1 assists per game. He also shot 55.6 percent from the field and 45 percent from three point range. Despite a strong performance this season, though, Smith has not been consistently appearing in NBA Mock Drafts until at least 2019.
He addressed it at the NBA’s Draft Combine in Chicago.
“Yeah, I didn’t know that,” Smith said of his seemingly low perceived value. “I really don’t pay attention to all that, but it is what it is.”
One of Smith’s biggest strengths that makes him an intriguing prospect for an NBA team is defense.
“Just being a little physical,” Smith said. “Not too physical where they can draw a foul on me, but just playing. Getting low. Just playing. Moving my feet.”
Smith had a highlight reel dunk vs. S.F. Austin in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. It was one of those dunks you had to watch over and over again because you could not believe it. It came off of a pass from his teammate, Keenan Evans.
Although on play is rarely enough to get a player noticed, the play did exhibit Smith’s exceptional athleticism. Along with his defense, his ability to convert explosive finishes could also help his value among NBA teams and potentially help him end up in the league.
“Yeah. If it was a bad pass, I made it look good, but yeah,” Smith said of the dunk. “I just adjusted to it. It just happened. I didn’t even know that was what had happened.”
For players coming into the NBA, there is a bit of a learning curve—both with respect to surviving in the league and how to fit in with their particular team.
“I see myself fitting in probably rookie, first two years, just fitting in, doing good, being a solid role player,” Smith said. “And in a few years I can see myself as an All-Star.”
During his freshman year at Texas Tech, Smith played in all 37 games, including 21 starts. He holds a total points record as a freshman with 417 points. He also totaled 185 rebounds, 42 blocks and 42 steals. The 42 total blocks for a freshman were second in team history.
In terms of his numbers being more than “empty” production, on the season, Texas Tech was 19-8 when Smith scored 10 or more points. And during the team’s four-games March Madness run, he averaged 12.0 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists, one block and one steal per game.
Although it’s early, Smith could end up being an “under the radar” type of prospect, similar to the Jazz’s Donovan Mitchell. To this point, he has been mostly renowned for his excellent defensive game, but his offensive game is respectable, even if it is still considered a work-in-progress.
As for whether he can be the “next” Donovan Mitchell, Smith didn’t shy away from the prospect.
“I think so,” he said. “…If I put in the work.”
For him, the process is just beginning. Hopefully, for his sake, his NBA journey is far from over.
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