For the first time in quite a few years, the Philadelphia 76ers will not have a lottery pick in the upcoming 2019 NBA Draft. But, even though they won’t be adding a new name in the lottery, it’s almost like they will be in a way, if you consider Zhaire Smith.

The Sixers acquired Smith – via trade with the Phoenix Suns – in last year’s lottery, but the promising prospect was limited to just six games of action during his rookie season after breaking his foot in training camp and then having an extreme allergic reaction relating to ingesting sesame that left him bedridden for weeks. In those six games that he played, Smith averaged 6.7 points, 2.2 rebounds, and 1.7 assists in 18.5 minutes of action per performance.

He barely got to show off what he can do, which is unfortunate because the Sixers could have used a player of his ilk during their playoff push: an athletic wing capable of playing solid defense, getting out in transition, and (hopefully) spacing the floor.

This offseason though, is crucial for Smith, as he will have an opportunity to play a legitimate role for the Sixers next season if he can demonstrate considerable growth and development this summer. Outside of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, Philadelphia’s starting lineup for next season is a question mark, as Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris, and J.J. Redick are all unrestricted free agents, and there’s a chance that Smith could even work himself all the way up to a starting spot.

Plus, even if he does return to the Sixers next season, Redick’s days as a starter might be behind him, as he may be better suited for a reserve role that plays major minutes moving forward. An athletic, two-way player like Smith would be a better fit in a starting spot, as long as he proves able to consistently knock down shots from long distance.

Sixers head coach Brett Brown is well aware of the import of this particular offseason for Smith.

"I think it’s a huge summer for him and he understands completely,” Brown said. “This is the time people advance. This is the time, and I’m not talking just young players, this is a time when people have a chance to improve because of the rhythm beat of the NBA season drags you out. The summertime is where you set the table to have an improvement base that I believe he’s going to have. I think he’s going to have a great summer.”

Brown thinks that improvements in Smith’s shots will allow him to be an impact player for the team next season.

“Yes, I do,” Brown replied when asked if he thought that Smith could be a factor in the team’s rotation next season. “And I say that for a few reasons. First, his perseverance and love of basketball is completely evident. The kid lives in a gym. Because of that, he’s been able… to improve the shot that people questioned. And that will be the thing that, ultimately, makes his package whole. I think that that is improving.”

Brown’s optimism surrounding Smith isn’t especially surprising, as he has long expected big things from the Texas Tech product. He even went as far as to compare Smith to All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard before Smith was even selected by the Sixers.

“He was comparing me to Kawhi {Leonard],” Smith said of Brown on draft night in 2018. “…Probably because Kawhi in college he was like a 4 and he turned him into a wing. I guess he looked forward to turning me into a shooting guard.”

Moving forward, as the Sixers salary cap becomes increasingly dedicated to big-money contracts for key contributors - like Embiid, Simmons, and let’s say Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris – it’s extremely important that the team finds value and production in their own draft picks on their rookie deals, and that should start with Smith next season, as long as he puts in the work this summer.

 

 

Follow Michael Kaskey-Blomain on Twitter @therealmikekb.