Zhaire Smith is ‘a pogo stick,' hammering home advantages, more from Day 3 of Sixers training camp


CAMDEN, N.J. — The 2019-20 Sixers play in front of their fans for the first time in two days, when the team will hold its annual Blue X White Scrimmage at 76ers Fieldhouse in Wilmington, Delaware.

For now, the scrimmaging is mostly happening behind closed doors — unlike Wednesday, the media wasn’t permitted to watch any 5-on-5 action Thursday at Day 3 of training camp, just some individual shooting drills at the end of practice. 

Here are a couple of notes from Day 3: 

The ‘pogo stick’ jumps out 

Zhaire Smith started out as “just a skinny kid who could really, really jump,” his high school coach, JT Locklear, told NBC Sports Philadelphia in June.

Landry Shamet called him a “freak athlete” after a few days at summer league minicamp last July.

Josh Richardson recalled Wednesday that Smith had a block where he “came out of nowhere.”

Brett Brown, though, might have had the best description yet Thursday of the 20-year-old Smith.

Just a pogo stick. … You know, he had one or two plays today where you’re like, OK, just an incredibly gifted athlete. He's making some shots, he's playing hard. I think we're all going to enjoy, you know, how this plays out with Shake [Milton] and Furkan [Korkmaz] and Matisse [Thybulle] and Zhaire — that's an interesting group. And you know, when you talk about the young guys, I think that he's had a real bounce and has been excellent. Defensively, especially.

In May, Brown labeled Smith’s shot as “the thing that ultimately makes his package whole.”

It was interesting that Al Horford, instead of turning to Smith’s defense or athleticism when asked his thoughts on the 2018 first-round pick, first highlighted Smith’s jumper.

“He’s really shooting the ball well and that’s something that’s impressed me,” Horford said. “Probably coming into the league he wasn’t labeled as a shooter, but from what I’ve seen he’s shooting the ball really well, and that’s encouraging.”

Smith, with the assistance of Sixers player development coach Tyler Lashbrook, has done extensive work on his jumper after a rookie year that contained injury, a severe, terrifying allergic reaction and a grind behind the scenes to eventually return to the floor. 

The focus with his shot, Smith said, is “just the little things, not bringing it down and getting it off quicker.”

Here’s what it looked like Thursday:

We’ll surely have opportunities down the road to dissect the other names Brown included as part of the competition for bench minutes on the wing, but it’s worth noting Brown has consistently included Korkmaz. 

The third-year Turkish player said at media day he’d cut his body fat from as high as the 13-14 percent range to around 8 to 9 percent. Legitimate questions exist about whether Korkmaz can play passable defense, but Brown seems to find the outside shooting Korkmaz can theoretically provide appealing, and he praised the “swagger” he played with last season.

The 22-year-old averaged 5.8 points and 2.2 rebounds per game in 2018-19, shooting 32.6 percent from three-point range. You’d assume he’d have to increase that percentage significantly to earn a rotation spot.  

‘How are they going to match up versus us?’

“Arrogant” is far from the first word that comes to mind when you think of Tobias Harris or Horford. Both players, however, had answers that were high on confidence when asked how they expect opponents will approach playing against the Sixers’ starting forwards, who stand at 6-foot-9 and 6-foot-10, respectively. 

“I always say this: How are they going to match up versus us? Whoever’s out there, at the end of the day, they gotta match up versus us first,” Harris said. “We kind of are a team with our size, our skill and ability that can control the narrative on a lot of things that we want to do. Obviously there will be a lot of different schemes, playing teams that go small. They gotta guard us, also.”

At first, it appeared Horford was going to effortlessly deflect the question. He talked a bit about his focus being on learning the Sixers’ terminology and concepts, and said he felt “kind of like a rookie a little bit” with all the new information he was having to process. 

Then, Horford added, “Teams are going to have to do something, that’s for sure.”

Concerns about how the Sixers will cope with quickness disadvantages or what they’ll do to adjust when Harris or Horford face a difficult matchup defensively are valid. Still, it sounds like the Sixers recognize they have plenty that should concern opponents and are determined to hammer home their advantages.

Random observation: As Brown was walking over to meet with the media, Ben Simmons drained a half-court shot. His jumper was a popular topic Thursday (see story).

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