This time two years ago, Zhaire Smith was a nobody.
Texas Hoops ranked 59 players in Texas alone higher than the Lakeview Centennial guard. I’m talking Sam Houston State-level players. Yet somehow, just two trips around the sun later, Smith is projected as a top-15 pick in the upcoming NBA Draft.
The term “meteoric rise” is both overplayed and outdated, but I can’t think of anything else that’ll more accurately illustrate the dramatic ascension Smith experienced in such a short period of time.
As inexplicable as it is, we’re here now. This is real life. Texas Tech has it’s first-ever one-and-done player. As much as his departure will hurt next year’s team, the move is ultimately going to benefit the Red Raider basketball program in the long run.
But was it the right move for Smith? Ask any NBA scout and they’ll tell you he needed more time to develop—he’s going to be drafted in the top half of the first round, but only off of potential alone. He’s not a player that’s going to step in on Day One and change the fabric of a franchise. In fact, I can’t imagine a scenario where he averages more than five points per game over his first few seasons.
Objectively speaking, he’s not an overly skilled basketball player. He had a good shooting percentage from outside the arc last season, but he only took one three-point shot per game and he never made any from “way downtown,” as it were. He’s going to have trouble hitting threes consistently from the NBA line.
His ball handling skills aren’t as tight as scouts would like them to be, and he’s not a creative passer. He’s a great rebounder at the shooting guard position and of course he is a generational athlete, but his fundamentals are without a doubt lacking.
The thing about the NBA is it’s a man’s game. Very rarely do kids come in at 18 or 19 years old and average 15 points and five rebounds a game so it’d be foolish to expect that out of Smith. In fact, he only averaged 11 points per game in college, so he definitely has a ways to go before he reaches the point where he can start for an NBA team.
With that said, what’s his potential? What can the 6’5 shooting guard accomplish if the right team drafts him and develops him properly, with patience and quality coaching? Conversely, what’s the worst case scenario? Here’s my take:
Ceiling: Victor Oladipo
I thought about going with Avery Bradley, but I think the best-case comparison to Smith is the former Indiana shooting guard, 6’4 Victor Oladipo. An excellent defender and tremendous athlete, Oladipo has finally emerged as an All-Star caliber player in his fifth year in the league. He’s currently leading the league in steals and is averaging a career-high 23.1 points per game.
Oladipo never was the first option in college and really struggled to shoot the ball from distance. Since he came into the league, his three point percentage has improved each year, from 32 percent as a rookie, to 33, then 34, then 36, and now 37 percent as an Indiana Pacer.
Smith could absolutely mimic Oladipo’s career given the right situation and right coaching staff. It goes without saying that this would be the dream situation for both Smith and Texas Tech fans.
Floor: Jeffery Taylor
Drafted with the first pick of the second round, Taylor was another exceptional athlete and defender that just never really panned out. He played three seasons for the NBA’s worst team, the Charlotte Bobcats, and averaged between four and eight points per game while only making 132 appearances on the court. While he did battle some injuries, Taylor’s kryptonite was his inability to shoot the basketball at the NBA level.
Taylor now plays overseas for Real Madrid and averages about four points per game. This is the worst-case scenario for Smith, but I don’t think it’s the most likely outcome.
Middle of the road prediction: Andre Roberson
A nasty perimeter defender who’s hustle, rebounding and athletic ability consistently earn him playing time, Roberson seems like the best match for what Smith is capable of doing at the next level.
Roberson, another player from Texas, was really starting to come into his own in 2016-2017. He was averaging six points, five rebounds, one assist and one steal (his style of play isn’t really about showing up in the box score, it’s the intangibles that make him valuable) but then the Oklahoma City Thunder went and traded for Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, and, naturally, his playing time diminished. However, once those two players inevitably leave OKC for Los Angeles, Roberson’s spot will open back up and he should get right back to contributing at a high level.
The 6’7 Roberson is the guy who guards every opponent’s best player, usually no matter what position they play. He just makes players’ lives miserable.
If Smith can carve out a similar career as Roberson, I think everyone would be pretty happy. He’ll have a long career in this league, and he’ll prove to recruits all over the country you can play basketball at Texas Tech and go on to have a successful NBA career.
Who’s NBA career will Zhaire Smith most accurately reflect?
This poll is closed