Zhaire Smith, who missed nearly all of last season with Philly, could be an excellent buy-low candidate in the trade market for the Knicks.
For a team that went 21-45 last season, the idea of buying low is a bit of an odd sell for the New York Knicks. Considering their several needs, new front office and coaching staff in place, and several young, unknown talents already on the roster, adding another player into the fray, let alone trading for one, doesn’t make much sense on the surface.
However, one area the Knicks should look into trading is the guard department—specifically, wing players who can shuffle between shooting guard, small forward, and even power forward for a spell. Much like every other team in the league, the Knicks could always use another 3-and-D wing who can fill in at either one of the wing spots and offer some floor spacing and defense. For a team that lacks shooting and defense, the Knicks would be wise to add a few guys who fit these criteria this offseason.
With the renewed investment in development between Kenny Payne and Johnnie Bryant on the coaching staff, the Knicks could look towards adding someone with 3-and-D potential and attempt to groom them before giving them a shot on the main roster. The draft offers a plethora of options, but if the Knicks pass on Devin Vassell with the eighth overall pick, odds are slim that one will fall to them when they pick again at the end of the first. Free agency often lacks a true 3-and-D unrestricted free agent, and this offseason is no different.
One option that New York could pursue is to trade for someone who fits the criteria. A player who intrigues me as a trade candidate on a buy-low is Philadelphia 76ers guard Zhaire Smith.
Three years ago, Zhaire Smith was a fascinating wing prospect coming out of Texas Tech. While his college stats (11.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.8 assists, and 55.6% shooting) don’t pop off the screen, Smith’s game did as an athletic, two-way wing. Smith shot 45.0% from three on 40 attempts and 3.2 stocks per 40 minutes at Texas Tech and appeared to be a lottery prospect.
The Sixers agreed, flipping Mikal Bridges to Phoenix for Smith and a future first-round pick. It all took a sudden turn as Smith missed an entire season due to an allergic reaction that resulted in rapid weight loss and almost losing his life. Philadelphia then accelerated their timeline, trading for Tobias Harris and Jimmy Butler, and entered the contention stage. In two seasons with Philadelphia, Smith has played 13 games and 143 minutes.
Philadelphia’s misfortune could be an opportunity for New York to add a young prospect into their group of developmental prospects.
Despite very few minutes at the pro level, Smith has remained active in the G League. In 2019–20, Smith finished with per-40 averages of 17.2 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and 53.0% shooting. His shooting numbers improved to 37.6% on 117 attempts, too, showing growth over the last two years. There’s upside as a creator (57 assists to 58 turnovers last season), and if once he bounces back as a defender, there’s true defensive 3-and-D value here.
After R.J. Barrett, the Knicks really don’t have much on the roster in terms of wing players. Damyean Dotson is on the way out, and the same goes for Wayne Ellington once the Knicks decline his option. The remaining players, Ignas Brazdeikis, Reggie Bullock, Kevin Knox, Theo Pinson, and Maurice Harkless, are a smorgasbord of “meh.” New York could use a few upgrades at the wing position.
Smith offers an enticing prospect for Payne and Bryant to work with. His shooting, in a small sample, looks good at a lower level. He has the upside to handle the ball, and perhaps his defense and athleticism return to his Texas Tech levels the further he gets away from his allergic reaction. Thibodeau could be sold on his defense, while Payne and Bryant can help him become an established shooter.
How much would that cost New York, and does Philadelphia want to move on from the now third-year guard?
At first blush, the 27th pick doesn’t feel like too much of an overpay by New York, but it’s an overpay nonetheless. New York could look to fulfill the developmental wing role at 27th overall with players like TCU’s Desmond Bane, Arkansas’ Isaiah Joe, and Louisville’s Jordan Nwora all candidates to go here. The Knicks could also look for other positions here if they select Florida State’s Devin Vassell with the eighth overall pick.
The 38th overall pick for Zhaire Smith feels a bit too low for Philadelphia, a team that is in a clear win-now mode. That said, Philadelphia could use the 38th pick and their 34th overall pick to move back into the first round, add another cheap player into the backend of their rotation, and take advantage of a team looking to duck the luxury tax. Still, that feels too low for Smith, even with Smith’s value being as low as ever among NBA circles.
One idea could be a simple swap: Reggie Bullock for Zhaire Smith. New York would convert an excellent contract value (one-year, $4 million for Bullock next season) into a project player with two seasons of control and restricted free agent rights. Bullock’s long-range shooting and bird rights next season could jump right into Philadelphia’s rotation for the foreseeable future.
As New York shuffles its roster, fostering diversity among development projects would be a wise idea. Another wing with 3-and-D upside would be a welcomed addition to New York’s roster, and Zhaire Smith could be an effective, low-cost option. Philadelphia could use him to find someone who can assist them to win now. For the Knicks, it would be a buy-low on a once intriguing prospect whose career took an unfortunate turn.