Just a season ago, the Philadelphia 76ers acquired Texas Tech guard Zhaire Smith in a trade with the Phoenix Suns on the night of the 2018 NBA Draft. The Sixers were excited about Smith's progress in the Summer League, but all of that offseason work would go to waste after the first-rounder fell victim to the Sixers' rookie curse and suffered a foot injury, which would keep him out for a majority of the year.
For a while, it seemed the Sixers had no intention of debuting Zhaire Smith last season. One random night in February of 2019, though, Smith was set to make his debut for the Sixers' G League affiliate, the Delaware Blue Coats. After Smith got his feet wet in the developmental league, he was eventually called up to the big league to make his 76ers debut before the team went into the playoffs.
Smith's rookie season lasted six games, where he averaged 18 minutes-per-game, scoring 6.7 PPG. The former Texas Tech guard showed promise, but the 76ers weren't ready to throw Smith into the fire that was the 2019 NBA Playoffs. Instead, they waited patiently for year two when Smith could get a full offseason under his belt while healthy. Unfortunately, it was like being a rookie all over again.
By no means were the 76ers giving up on Smith after they spent a first-round pick on Matisse Thybulle, who plays the same position. But it was clear that Zhaire Smith was going to spend a lot of time in the G League with the Blue Coats. At times, Smith was rusty in Delaware, but all in all, he made good progress during his Sophomore effort.
"I feel like [my season] went pretty good," Smith told Sixers reporter, Lauren Rosen. "I feel like I improved in all aspects of my game, especially shooting. [During] my freshman year of college, I only put up like 40 threes. That was the main goal coming in, put up threes, how can I shoot? I feel like it's just going to get better from here."
Knowing he plays on a team that needs their shooting guards to have the ability to knock down shots consistently, Smith worked exceptionally hard in that department during his time down in Delaware. In 28 games with the Blue Coats, the second-year guard drained 37-percent of his threes (17-percent better than last year) and averaged 13.5 PPG (up six points).
It's unclear if the Sixers still see a future with Zhaire Smith. After all, his name was involved in tons of trade talks before the 2020 deadline. Regardless of whether he's in the Sixers' plans or not, the second-year guard feels good about his progress as a shooter and an overall player in the pros.
Justin Grasso covers the Philadelphia 76ers for Sports Illustrated. You can follow him on Twitter: @JGrasso_