NBA Draft Dream: What Zhaire Smith could do for Pacers

LUBBOCK, TX - DECEMBER 13: Zhaire Smith #2 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders goes to the basket during the game against the Kennesaw State Owls on December 13, 2017 at United Supermarkets Arena in Lubbock, Texas. Texas Tech defeated Kennesaw State 82-53. (Photo by John Weast/Getty Images)
LUBBOCK, TX - DECEMBER 13: Zhaire Smith #2 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders goes to the basket during the game against the Kennesaw State Owls on December 13, 2017 at United Supermarkets Arena in Lubbock, Texas. Texas Tech defeated Kennesaw State 82-53. (Photo by John Weast/Getty Images) /

Texas Tech’s Zhaire Smith would be a perfect fit with the Pacers, but they may not have the chance to select him.

Young, versatile, athletic…available? The first three adjectives the Indiana Pacers know are true of Texas Tech freshman Zhaire Smith. Come draft night on June 21, Indiana can only hope the last is true as well when its time to pick comes at 23rd overall.

Coming off a year full of overachievement, Indiana’s near-future looks a lot more competitive than it did 11 months ago. Victor Oladipo runs the show, and young big men Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis raise Indiana’s ceiling long-term.

Even skilled, stretchy big men like Turner and Sabonis are becoming less impactful in the postseason, however. To keep up with the NBA’s elite, Oladipo will need help on the perimeter. Enter Zhaire Smith.

The Skinny

When Smith’s name is called on draft night, he will be less than three weeks into his 19th year of life. In his lone collegiate season at Texas Tech, Smith averaged 11.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.1 steals, and 1.1 blocks per game on .556/.450/.717 shooting splits.

Smith participated in the May Combine, leaving Twitter and real scouts alike both intrigued and disappointed. Smith posted standing and max vertical leaps that placed him in the top five among participants, which was not surprising after seeing his in-game dunks this season.

The disappointment came from his height measurement. After being listed at 6-foot-5 throughout the season, Smith measured at 6-foot-4 (in shoes) at the Combine.

Maybe one inch doesn’t mean much—his wingspan still measured out to be just shy of 6-foot-10, which fell in line with his collegiate listing.

It may make it that much tougher to play him as a forward, however, which would be ideal in lineups with Oladipo.


What caught my eye in watching Smith was him as an off-ball presence. Around the rim, though—not on the perimeter. Smith did shoot 45 percent from three in college, but only on 40 attempts. Smith attempted 85 percent of his shots from inside the perimeter. Why, though? How was this guard so comfortable playing in the paint?

It was something I pondered for months. Smith finally cleared it up at the Combine.

“I was the tallest player on my high school team so I was the five-man,” Smith said. “I was posting little guards up and making easy buckets around the rim.”

Because of his position, Smith didn’t shoot a three until his senior year of high school. He wasn’t heavily recruited as a 6-foot-4 center; he signed with Texas Tech non-ranked. If he was on anyone’s radar coming into his freshman year, I hope they have some lottery numbers on their radar as well.

He was expected to be a role player and ended up being an important contributor to an Elite Eight team.

The primary intrigue in Smith’s game comes from his athleticism. Whether it be from a standstill, in transition, or on a cut through traffic, Smith will get up and throw it down. He’s not afraid to finish through contact, either:

Not handling the ball much, Smith didn’t have much opportunity to handle pressure or traps. Here Smith gets trapped, maintains his dribble and makes an on-point skip pass to an open shooter:

Smith will certainly need to improve as a creator. When he tried to make things happen on his own, he got reckless:

In mismatches, however, Smith’s a sure bet to scoot right around slow-footed defenders:

This is a pretty good display of Smith’s activity on offense. He’ll dip in and out of the paint, run around the perimeter, set off-ball screens and look for open spaces on the floor. On this play, in particular, there happened to be a pretty big space right under the basket:

He’s always looking for putback dunks, too:

As stated earlier, Smith hit 45 percent of his threes on just 40 attempts throughout the season. He needs a little space and time to get his shot off, but his form is pretty solid:


Like Oladipo, Smith has a ton of potential as a defense-to-offense playmaker. Being pesky on defense with active hands in passing lanes as well as steals turning to layups and dunks could be a nightly mainstay in NBA arenas:

Smith’s offensive comfortability around the rim translates to defense as well. Here, Zhaire boxes out 6-foot-11, 220-pound Vladimir Brodziansky, gets the rebound and draws a foul:

Smith, with his quick lateral movement and wingspan, is pretty good at sitting down and keeping his guy in front of him. But if his guy does get past him, he better protect the ball:

Here, Smith makes life hard for fellow first-round prospect Trae Young:

He may not be a center anymore, but Smith still keeps rim protection in mind:

Can Indiana Draft Him?

Zhaire Smith has shot up draft boards in recent months, especially after a strong NCAA tournament run. In order for the Pacers to draft him, they would probably have to trade up anywhere from five to 10 spots. Smith may not be a lottery pick, but it is hard to imagine him being available at pick 20—let alone 23.

Next: 2018 Pacers Draft Preview: Melvin Frazier

Moving up in the draft can be pricey, but it would be worth it for Zhaire Smith. He is so young and showed a ton of promise on both sides of the ball at Texas Tech. His combination of athleticism, activity and basketball IQ could allow Smith to become a very productive NBA player. With proper development, he may even turn into a star.