Sixers' Zhaire Smith exceeding early expectations with jump shot, offensive skillset ahead of summer league

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Zhaire Smith’s progress shooting the ball is impressing the Sixers’ coaching staff.

LAS VEGAS — On Friday night, Zhaire Smith will provide a glimpse of why the 76ers traded their 10th overall pick to snag him at No. 16 and a 2021 first-round pick in last month’s NBA draft.

The Sixers will face the Boston Celtics in a 7:30 p.m. NBA Summer League opener at the Thomas & Mack Center.

Smith’s debut will also mark the first time that he’ll play exclusively as a perimeter player. Despite being  6-foot-2 ¾ without sneakers on, the 19-year-old was primarily a power forward during his lone season at Texas Tech.  And before that, Smith used his 42-inch vertical to excel as a center at Lakeview Centennial High School in Garland, Texas, a Dallas suburb.

The Sixers drafted him to play shooting guard. Smith lined up at small forward on occasion and even brought the ball up the court at times during the summer-league team’s minicamp. But he’s mainly playing the two.

“I just want to do well and help my teammates win,” he said of his summer-league goals.  “I want to display my shooting and show the things that I have been working on.”

One knock on him in the predraft process was that Smith was more of a great athlete than a basketball player. His ability to make NBA three-pointers was also highly questioned despite shooting 45 percent in college. Smith’s critics argue that the 45 percentage came on just 40 attempts and that he doesn’t  have the skill set to excel from deep on the NBA level.

“He shot it from three probably better than I would expect him to,” said Sixers assistant Kevin Young, who is coaching the summer squad.

That’s not the only thing that pleasantly surprised Young.

“He’s got more offensive game than I thought,” Young said. “Clearly, he can get to the rim. He’s a crazy athlete. But his ability to get into the paint, raise up over guys and make shots in that area is [impressive.]”

Even though they’re not actual NBA games, the summer-league matchups give Smith opportunities to hit pull-up jumpers and three-pointers in a game-like setting. The Sixers are using the summer league as a way to get Smith and their No. 26 pick, Landry Shamet acclimated to their style of play.

The team wants the two rookies to focus on pick-and-roll defense, transition defense, and being organized offensively. In minicamp, Smith has displayed an ability to guard multiple perimeter positions.

Now, he’ll showcase what he can do in a game.

“It is a little nervousness,” Smith said of Friday’s debut. “It’s my first game in a while. My first game in the NBA.  So I’m a little nervous.

“But it sort of passed on the nervousness.  It’s a little excitement, too.  So I’m not too nervous.”

Bolden cleared to join Sixers’ summer league team

As expected, Jonah Bolden received his  official FIBA clearance Thursday to join the Sixers for the summer league.

The Sixers, through the NBA, submitted a letter of clearance to FIBA to allow  Bolden, a Maccabi Tel Aviv forward, to join their summer-league team.

Lack of a roster spot was the main reason the 6-foot-10 athletic power forward didn’t join the Sixers this season after being selected 36th overall in the 2017 draft.

So Bolden signed a three-year contract on July 21, 2017, with Maccabi Tel Aviv, which plays in the Israeli Premier League and EuroLeague. He averaged 6.9 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.2 steals and 21.1 minutes in 29 EuroLeague games, with 28 starts. Bolden shot 31.9 percent on three-pointers.