Zhaire Smith Needs At Least One More Year At Texas Tech

BOSTON, MA - MARCH 25: Zhaire Smith
BOSTON, MA - MARCH 25: Zhaire Smith /

Texas Tech freshman forward Zhaire Smith opened quite a few eyes around the nation with his play in the NCAA Tournament but despite the fact that his name is now showing up as a possible NBA drat pick, his game could use at least one more year of development.

During the Texas Tech run to the Elite 8, one of the Big 12’s best kept secrets became known to the nation.  Thanks to his magnificent play and high-flying dunks, Zhaire Smith has now become a name many are mentioning as a potential NBA draft prospect.

In fact, shortly after Texas Tech’s season came to an end Sunday, the media asked Smith about whether or not he intends to return to school next year or enter the NBA draft.  Smith indicated that he was not certain and that he would need to consult his family and pray before making his decision.

The fact that Smith even has such a choice to make is a testament to the unbelievable season he had.  When he signed out of Garland, Texas, Smith was a three-star prospect and the No. 40 shooting guard in the nation according to 247sports.com.  In other words, he was a nice recruit with plenty of upside but no one saw him as a potential one-and-done player.

But during his freshman season, Smith improved his draft stock perhaps more than any player in the nation.  He set a Texas Tech record for points by a freshman (417) including 27 games with at least 10 points.

NBA scouts have to be drooling over his insane athleticism and 45-inch vertical.  However, that trait alone will not make Smith a successful NBA professional.

Most of the scouting reports on Smith have a similar analysis. He is physically ready for the next level but his basketball skills need to improve.  The 6-foot-5 guard impressed with his versatility as he was perhaps the only player in major college basketball to be asked to  jump center to start the game and then guard the opposition’s point guard.

However, he needs to show that he is a better ball-handler and that he is capable of getting his own shot.  Also, Smith needs to improve his three-point shooting.

Though he shot a fantastic 45% from three this year, that percentage was inflated by his low number of attempts.  Smith shot only 40 threes this season and most of those were wide-open looks from the top of the key.

Today’s NBA is built around three-pointers taken off of isolation plays and most threes at that level are contested jumpers shot off the dribble.  There will be no motion offense for Smith to run in the NBA meaning his game must evolve like Keenan Evans’ did.

The website NBADraftRoom.com has the following to say about Smith:

"“Smith is a strong, quick and aggressive player who can really get after it on the defensive end. He’s got tremendous length and great defensive instincts.”"

The site lists his positive attributes as athleticism, size, strength, instincts and effort.  Meanwhile, his weaknesses are his shooting touch, ball-handling, and play-making.  The site says that he is not a “number one option on offense” and projects him to be a mid-first to early second round pick.

More from Wreck'Em Red

It is important to note the difference first and second round picks in the NBA Draft.  First round picks have the advantage of having their rookie contracts guaranteed where as that is not the case for second round picks.  Thus, if a player is not certain he will be a first round pick, he might be wise to return to school to work on his game.

The website Tankathon.com has Smith listed at the third-best shooting guard prospect in college basketball.  However, the site lists his biggest weakness as his three-point shooting, a very important skill for NBA shooting guards.

Ultimately, don’t be surprised if he declares for the NBA draft but chooses not to hire an agent.  Doing so would allow him to talk to scouts and get feedback on where he stands and while maintaining the option to return to college if he does not like what he learns about his draft prospects.  That is the route Zach Smith took after last season and following suite might be a wise move for Texas Tech’s second-leading scorer.

Though Zhaire Smith is arguably the best true freshman to ever play at Texas Tech, he is not quite ready for the NBA.  At the next level, he will not have as pronounced an advantage in athleticism as he does in college and his versatility will be decreased when he is unable to the guard power forward position as he did for Tech this year.

Next: Update On Proposed Athletic Facility Upgrades

Of course, Texas Tech fans want to see Zhaire Smith in Lubbock for three more seasons but that is looking less likely than it did four months ago.  Still, another year of molding his game and strengthening his ball-handling and jump-shooting at the Big 12 level would be a tremendous benefit and that is why most expect him to return for at least one more season.