I was literally applauding my home-city franchise when I heard Mikal Bridges’ name selected as the 10th overall pick of the 2018 NBA Draft to the Philadelphia 76ers.
I grew up on the Philadelphia side of Pennsylvania sport fandom, watching almost as much Villanova ball as the city’s professional organization. Seeing the 2-time NCAA champion put on that New Era cap with the 76ers insignia just felt right.
Heck, the guy even grew up in Malvern, a suburb right outside of Philly. So essentially, Bridges would be playing for his hometown, for the team he grew up with.
Mikal Bridges and his mom were so excited when he got drafted by Sixers.
— John Clark (@JClarkNBCS) June 22, 2018
That was until the Phoenix Suns struck a deal with the 76ers that sent Bridges to Phoenix in exchange for the 16th overall pick, Zhaire Smith, a raw freshman product from Texas Tech, as well as Miami’s 2021 first round pick (through Phoenix).
This was not the first nor will it be the last time that this organization has left its fans distraught and confused after draft night. Despite the public outcry, there’s sound reasoning justifying this move.
First, let’s ignore how perfect of a fit Bridges would be in Philadelphia. His arrival would’ve effectively sent Robert Covington to the bench — as opposed to playing 35 minutes of jacking up contested playoff three-pointers in crucial situations.
But the past is the past and no one can change it. Bridges is in Phoenix, and more importantly for the City or Brotherly Love, Zhaire Smith is a 76er.
Now that Smith is part of “The Process”, fans need to give the guy a chance before booing him out of the Wells Fargo Center. Let’s take a deeper look at what the 19-year-old former Red Raider and Garland, Texas native is all about.
Zhaire Smith had nothing short of an all-around dynamic rookie season at Texas Tech. In one of the country’s most competitive conferences, the Big 12, he led a team that finished second in the conference and made a solid run in the tournament before their elimination at the hands of eventual champion Villanova in the Elite 8.
Per 40 minutes, Smith averaged 15.9 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 assists all while throwing down some of the season’s nastiest high-flying dunks, a skill that immediately translates to the next level.
He scored in the double digits in 27 games, including a consecutive 10 game stretch from late November through early January. His 417 total points set a new freshman record. Additionally, Smith had the 4th best field goal percentage in the conference at 55.6%. He shot 45% from three, albeit a very limited sample size of 40 attempts.
While statistically Smith isn’t the sexiest player in the draft, and is still in the developmental stages of his offensive game, he is at the very top of the board in terms of raw athleticism and upside.
The 6’4″ combo guard dunks off of 1 or 2 feet with ease and style. On the defensive end, his motor and instinct are on full display. It’s no surprise that he led Texas Tech in rebounds, steals, and blocked shots in his freshman campaign.
Smith posted 13 games with multiple blocks, as well as consistently demonstrating the ability to be a lockdown defender at multiple positions in both the half-court and in transition. The freshman was also named to the Big 12 Honorable Mention team, the Big 12 All-Newcomer team, and the Big 12 All-Defensive team.
No, this is not the Patriot League, or wherever we get those 15 and 16-seed teams in March. Zhaire Smith produced in perhaps the most talented conference in the country.
Why It Makes Sense
Finally, upon deep reflection, this move perfectly illustrates what “The Process” is all about. Stockpiling picks. Stashing cash. Building for the future. All while wrestling away every bit of sanity the fans have left.
When your coach trades for FOUR future picks in his very first draft! pic.twitter.com/e6DZ4oG2qQ
— Sixers Nation (@PHLSixersNation) June 22, 2018
The Sixers now have at least 2 first round selections in every draft between now and 2021. This should not be overlooked, especially considering that 2021 is the target year for giving high school prospects NBA eligibility — hopefully netting the league another LeBron James or Kobe Bryant, two superstars who came straight from high school.
Along with their own first rounders, the Sixers now hold 1st round picks from Sacramento (2019), Oklahoma City (2020), and Miami (2021), not to mention the plethora of 2nd round picks in each of those years.
However, these picks aren’t valuable because of who they might result in on future draft nights, but rather, how they can be used as assets for the Sixers to target a superstar to add to the Simmons/Embiid duo that debuted this past season.
On top of attaining yet another valuable draft asset, the Sixers save about $1 million in cap space by taking the 16th pick instead of the 10th.
This provides even more dough to throw at Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, or Lebron James. Or perhaps another superstar capable of completing “The Process” and helping the franchise follow in their football counterpart’s footsteps.
It’s time to exhale, Philly fans. If the front office did what everyone expected, would they even be the Philadelphia 76ers?
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