NBA Draft Scouting Report: Zhaire Smith


As we transition from the college basketball season to NBA Draft season I’ll be breaking down the scouting reports for various players across the country who are expected to be in the NBA Draft. We’ll focus on seniors and those with agents to start, with the hope of hitting all of the college guys in my top-60. If there is someone specific you want on here, please let me know @barstoolreags. All videos are courtesy of Synergy and the stats will come from Synergy and KenPom. 

Zhaire Smith– Texas Tech

6’5”, 195 lbs, 18 years old

Projected: No. 16 (DraftExpress) No. 18 (

Background: I don’t know the last time we saw someone rise up the boards as quick as Zhaire Smith. The one-and-done from Texas Tech came into the year as a sub-200 prospect in the class of 2017. He left Texas Tech as the Big-12 Newcomer of the Year, honorable mention All-Big-12, was on the All-Big 12 defensive team. Smith, who was one of the most athletic players in the country this year, finished the year averaging over 11 points and 5 rebounds per game, but it was his stretch in February that had everyone writing his name down on mocks. He had an eight game stretch where averaged over 15 per game while shooting 61% from the field. He’s that rare one-and-done that we just don’t see. What he has shown though is that Chris Beard is one of the best coaches in America as not only did Smith become a one-and-done but Jarrett Culver, another unknown recruit, is expected to be a pro in a year or two. Smith announced yesterday that he was leaving Texas Tech to sign with ROC Nation and officially declare for the draft.

Strengths: I mentioned Zhaire Smith’s athleticism. It’s unreal. He was one of the best dunkers in the country this year and sure, that’s not a huge strength in the grand scheme of things, his athleticism also made him one of the better defenders in the country. He averaged over a block and a steal per game this past season as well as ranking in the top-500 nationally in block and steal percentage, but what made him even more enticing was his ability to defend multiple positions. I know I harp on it quite a bit, but that’s becoming one of the most valuable skills you can have in today’s NBA. The game is going not necessarily positionless, but versatile. You need to be able to switch on a guard while a wing. You need to be able to defend the pick and roll. This play against Brunson sort of highlights his athleticism and ability to defend. He’s isolated up top against the NPOY. Nova runs a little rub screen to cry and create some space, where Smith is able to get through easily. Brunson is able to get a step on Smith as he crosses the lane, but the recovery here is important. Smith goes straight up, even as Brunson tries to use the rim as a shield to block the shot. That translates.

He’s not as polished offensively, but he’s an incredibly smart player that can attack the rim. He does need to improve his jumper – more on that later – but he was one of the more efficient players in the country this year at 1.098 points per possession. He excels in getting out in transition, ranking in the 90th percentile, because again, that’s where his athleticism comes into play. What else makes him so good in transition is how he reads the defense. He knows where to be on the floor and doesn’t congest the lane. It’s a small thing but in watching his film this year, he’s always correctly running the floor. There’s value to that because it helps space defenders and can lead to not only dunks but open threes. That’s like this three here against Oklahoma. As the ball is being pushed up the floor, he could dive weak side rim or leak a bit more to try and get the ball on the elbow and attack. Instead he takes a couple of steps closer to the ball, noticing no one is on him and sets up right at the top of the key. This is all part of his basketball IQ that you’ll hear more about during workouts and leading up to the draft.

While I did mention his jumper needs work, one place he did excel at was catch and shoot jumpers. He averaged 1.289 points per possession, ranking in the 89th percentile nationally on those sets. That’s going to be important for him as he’ll play off the ball at the NBA. He can turn into a 3-and-D guy early if those catch and shoot numbers stay there. Part of this was due to teams daring him to shoot, the other part was him starting to get into a rhythm, especially when teams wanted to take away Keenan Evans. Evans is still young enough – he doesn’t turn 19 until June – that he can enter the league as a 3-and-D guy while developing. That’s what makes him so damn enticing as a potential late lottery pick.

Weaknesses: He’s not great at breaking guys down off the dribble. He graded out as poor in ISO sets and part of that is due to his ball handling. He’s simply not made for that sort of game and if he has to create for himself at the next level he could struggle. I went back and watched a couple ISO sets against Villanova and Florida. What was troubling is how he initiates the set. What I mean by that is he’s predictable. He catches the ball, squares up – which is all fine. However, he then tends to sweep the ball to create a jab step and then immediately puts the ball on the ground. He did this multiple times in a row. He needs to develop a jab into a secondary move instead of consistently jab and then one dribble into a cross. It led to turnovers and even defenders just walling up as they knew where he was trying to go. Then there’s the jumper. He only attempted 1 three per game, which is going to have to improve at the next level. He did shoot 45% from three, but again, that number isn’t necessarily true as it was on minimal attempts. Part of that will have to come with shooting off the dribble as well.


Draft Stock/Projection: He’s going to go in the top-20 and there’s a chance he could sneak into the top-15. What I like about his game the most is the fact that he played his best against the best competition. His ORtg against KenPom Tier-A teams was 120.6 and his KenPom comparisons come to Rondae Hillis-Jefferson, Otto Porter and Jeremy Lamb. If he can develop that jumper to a consistent basis, Otto Porter would be a decent comp for him in terms of career arc. There are a couple of teams to keep an eye on when it comes to drafting Smith. Teams like the Suns (16), Spurs (18) and Wolves (20) all make a ton of sense for him.

Other scouting reports:

Jalen Brunson
Aaron Holiday
Jevon Carter