LAS VEGAS – Zhaire Smith is a YouTube-must-see when it comes to dunks and overall athletic plays.
One of the former Texas Tech standout's highlights is a 360-degree dunk on an alley-oop pass in the NCAA tournament.
These days, the 76ers rookie is focusing on excelling on the perimeter – not close to the basket. But based on Friday night's summer league loss to the Boston Celtics, he has a lot of work to do in that area.
During long stretches in the game, he was land-locked behind the three-point line in the corner. In addition to not moving without the ball, Smith looked indecisive in a half-court setting. But he became more active as the game went on, finishing with seven points on 3-for-7 shooting.
Both he and the Sixers knew of the challenges ahead after he was acquired in the June 21 NBA draft. The Phoenix Suns selected him 16th and immediately shipped him and the Miami Heat's 2021 first-round pick to the Sixers for Mikal Bridges.
Smith's upside outweighs being a former undersized post player with expected growing pains while learning a new position.
"In general, as I think I said in the beginning, he's going to be a work in progress," Sixers coach and interim general manager Brett Brown said the night of the draft. I think there are lots to do."
But Smith, who turned 19 on June 4, has a unique skill set that Brown previously said reminds him of San Antonio Spurs two-time all-star Kawhi Leonard. Both players are defensive stoppers. Like Smith, Leonard was known as a raw athlete with untapped potential.
"I think patience is key," said assistant coach Kevin Young, who runs the summer-league team.
Playing a new position, Smith is now facing a new caliber of play and better athletes. In the past, he used his quickness to get past less-mobile post players. Now, he's facing guys with similar athletic ability and size. So it's going to be an adjustment period for him.
"But then you'll see where, like that one play [against Boston] he just raises up, raises up [from] 18 feet," Young said, "and just over the gym and sticks a jump shot.
"So he's just got this raw ability that we got to hone. I think patience will be important."
While true, Smith is eager to make improvements. The Garland, Texas, native saw what he needs to work on by watching video of Friday night's game.
"Just from coming out of college, I just can't stay in the corner," Smith said. "I did that a lot.
"So I have to get the ball and just use my cuts, because I stay in the corner a lot."
During his lone season at Texas Tech, he became accustomed to defenders leaving him in the corner to help double-team another player. Smith learned that defenders rarely do that in the NBA since the corner three is a relatively easy shot.
"I have to work to get open a little bit more," he said.