In advance of the 2018 NBA Draft, Peachtree Hoops will be breaking down prospects, both from the college ranks and internationally, with an eye toward what the Atlanta Hawks will be evaluating in the coming days. More than 50 prospects will be profiled in this space and, in the end, the goal is to inform Hawks fans prior to June 21, when the Hawks are scheduled to make four selections with the first 34 picks.
Today’s breakdown centers on Texas Tech’s Zhaire Smith.
Zhaire Smith was not even considered a top-200 high school prospect just one year ago. Now, he could be a mid to late lottery pick in the 2018 NBA draft. He played center in high school but developed into being one of the most versatile players in the NCAA last season on a Texas Tech team that reached the Elite 8 in March.
He plays consistently with excellent effort and awareness. He is the rare dynamic athlete that is willing to make the simple play. He is extraordinarily team minded and demonstrates excellent instinct and feel despite the fact that he played the entire season last year at the age of 18. He has demonstrated that he is willing to do all of the little things that contribute to winning basketball.
Smith was the most efficient scorer of all of the rotation players that played for the Red Raiders last season. He used a 41.5-inch vertical to finish plays at the rim and knocked down 45 percent of his three point attempts although it must be noted that it was on just 40 total shots. But the mechanics look clean. The motion could be sped up a bit but he does have a high release point that serves him well.
He works hard on and off the ball and is consistently looking for ways to help his teammates with back screens and stunts toward the rim. He is more than willing to operate as an on ball screener. And if you’ve been watching the NBA playoffs in recent weeks you might notice how helpful it is to have effective ball screeners at every position.
Smith makes solid reads, has excellent floor vision and delivers precise passes. He was a active hitting the offensive glass for put backs, He might be the most versatile offensive player in this draft class although NBA teams will have to evaluate how much of what he put on display at the collegiate level will translate at the next level.
His willingness to work in the high screen action can be seen on this play. He naturally works his way to the weak side baseline and creates a passing lane. Instead of looking for a highlight dunk, he makes the simple play with the pump fake and lay up.
On this play, his defender overplays his screen and demonstrates excellent timing cutting to the basket. He will finish with a dunk when he feels he needs to finish strong over a would be rim protector.
As he does on this play, Smith consistently takes the play that the defense gives him and doesn’t force plays even though he is often the most athletic player on the court.
As you can see, his release is a little reminiscent of former Hawks’ wing Thabo Sefolosha. But he measures it well and knows how to use his teammates to create the space for him to get the shot up.
Especially in the offensive half court, he sees the entire play and anticipates when a teammate will break free of his defender. Again nothing flashy just a well timed, precise pass that leads to the uncontested lay up.
He does multiple constructive things on this possession. When the defense double teams the post, Smith simply works toward the baseline to create a passing lane to help his teammate avoid a trap. Again, he sees the play and anticipates the pass to the cutter at the rim.
He doesn’t take ill advised risks working on the offensive boards but demonstrates excellent feel for when the rebound is available. He is very secure with the basketball and converts the lay up with the slight double pump to get the easy conversion.
When the rebound is available directly at the rim, Smith will flush it with authority and energize his team as he does on this play.
When his defender chases him off of the perimeter, he is effective operating in dribble penetration and knows how to use his length to deliver passes around interior defenders to create shots for his teammates.
Smith might be even more versatile on defense than he is on offense. He defended at all five positions at the collegiate level. It’s not unrealistic to think that he will be able defend four positions at the next level while also potentially offering weak side rim protection.
He’s consistently engaged and demonstrates awareness of everything that is happening in the half court. Early in the season, he was not as good of a decision maker as an off the ball defender but by the time tournament play arrived he was more than solid defending in all phases.
On this play, Smith is acting as the defensive anchor. His communication and his ability to maintain eyesight on the basketball while not losing tracking of a player on the weak side is evident. He is incredibly proactive in his technique fronting an offensive player when it’s the right play and he shades just the right amount of help to assist his teammates defending on the perimeter in holding up at the point of attack.
He is defending on the perimeter on this play and his commitment to being proactive can be seen here as well. When an opposing big approaches with the intent to set a ball screen, he just turns his back to the would be screener. He stays attached without fouling and forces a low percentage shot attempt.
Smith’s incredible range in the defensive half court can be seen on this possession. He stays connected to his assignment but is incredibly cognizant of when to flash to the restricted area to help deny the post entry pass. NBA teams value players that can help at the rim from the weak side corner while also being able to get back to the perimeter.
The offensive player is able to briefly get separation but Smith has unique quickness and length that he uses to get back in the play and reject the shot attempt.
It appears very unlikely that Smith will still be on the board when the Hawks are scheduled to draft at No. 19 overall. With that said, Atlanta has additional picks if they want to consider to moving up to the low to mid teens from the No. 19 position if they want to pursue the player that made the Big 12 all defensive team as an 18 year old freshman.