Zhaire Smith - Freshman, Texas Tech
- Height: 6’5”
- Weight: 195
- Wingspan: 6’11”
- Shoots: Right
- Position: SG
- Age: 18
- Projected draft range: 12-20
- PPG: 11.3 | Per 40: 15.9
- RPG: 5.0 | Per 40: 7.0
- APG: 1.8 | Per 40: 2.5
- STL: 1.1 | Per 40: 1.6
- BLK: 1.1 | Per 40: 1.5
- FG%: 55.6
- 3P%: 45.0 (18/40)
Gerald Green/Terrance Ferguson
Zhaire Smith came out of nowhere for Texas Tech. After steadily increasing his minutes to begin the year, Smith earned a starting spot 15 games in and never looked back. He finished as the team’s second-leading scorer but his usage rating of only 18.3 was barely top five on the team. The Red Raiders finished the season 27-10, including the first-ever Elite 8 in the school’s history, before falling to the eventual champion Villanova Wildcats.
As far as pure athleticism goes, there are not many in this draft that are going to compete with Zhaire Smith and his 45-inch vertical. Not only does this kid get up high, but he gets up quick and floats once he hits his apex. Once in the air, his instincts and incredible body control make him a dunk lover’s dream. For instance, this dunk happened on a routine play in an NCAA tournament game:
Smart money says Smith is winning an NBA dunk contest someday.
The guy can jump his way out of a lap pool, but he also has great speed and quickness. In his sole year at Texas Tech, Smith’s energy level and agility allowed him to guard everyone from elite point guards to 7-foot lottery picks. That switchability, along with his discipline to avoid foul trouble, will translate directly to the NBA level.
Offensively, Smith has great instincts off the ball. He is not a go-to scorer or playmaker at this point, but he is very intelligent in his cuts and movement. He plays like he seeks opportunities to destroy the rim whenever possible. He was one of the better offensive rebounding gaurds in the NCAA as 83 of his 185 total rebounds were on the offensive end. Smith is always a threat to put back any miss with an emphatic dunk yet is quick enough to get back in transition after he crashes. His shot needs development, but Smith did shoot 45 percent from 3-point land on 40 attempts last year.
Zhaire Smith is just 18 years old so growth could be possible in most facets of his game. But as of now, Smith lacks the decision-making and isolation game to spend a lot of time with the ball in his hands. His handle is loose and inconsistent and will always prefer to go right if he can. Smith is long, with a 6’11 wingspan, but at 6’5” and 195 pounds, he is not big for an NBA wing. He struggles to finish with contact unless he is trying to dunk on someone, which can contain his athleticism. His jump shot is not an NBA-looking shot, lacking both fluidity and consistency. There are tools to work with, but the offensive game here is raw.
Smith is going to need a lot of work if he is going to become a playmaker with the ball, so more than likely that will not be his role as an NBA player. Smith depends a lot on others to create for him and lives off of easy baskets brought to him by both his creativity and athleticism. Defensively, especially after a year or two on an NBA weight program, there is a lot to like about Smith as a defensive Swiss Army knife and a weak-side shot blocking threat. Smith’s age and athleticism alone give him a high ceiling, but his floor is higher than most 18 year olds in this draft.
Smith is slotted to be a bit out of Portland’s grasp on draft day, but as we saw last year, a lot can change between now and selection time. Portland hasn’t had a guy that can run the floor and create a highlight reel at Smith’s level since Darius Miles was in town. A wing without a reliable jumpshot is absolutely a concern for the Blazers, but Smith does have a skill set that no one on the Blazers possesses. Teams that ignore him set themselves up for easy backdoor cuts and lobs. Portland is desperate for help at the 2-3 position so taking a chance on a high-upside player like Smith could be Portland’s best option going forward.
Do you want to see Zhaire in a Trail Blazers jersey next season? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.