On draft night, the Philadelphia 76ers traded Mikal Bridges to the Phoenix Suns for Zhaire Smith and Miami’s first round pick in 2021. This was a surprising move by Brett Brown. Bridges was born in Philadelphia, went to Villanova and his mom even works for the team. On the court, his shooting ability and solid perimeter defense would have fit nicely alongside Ben Simmons.
While Bridges is a solid prospect, he did not have as much upside as many of the other prospects in his range. He is 21 years old and looks like more of a finished product. That is not to say Bridges will not be a quality starter for years to come, but there is not any reason to think of him as future superstar.
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Smith is another story, being only 19 years old and possessing major upside. He has a 41.5” vertical and a 6’10” wingspan. His athleticism was on full display last year at Texas Tech, as he produced many highlight dunks. The negative on Smith was his perceived lack of shooting ability. However, he shot 45 percent at Texas Tech from deep (only on 1.5 attempts per game). He has solid mechanics, and there is nothing preventing him from developing into an elite shooter. Smith’s floor is a lot higher than the general perception, as well.
The best aspect of his game is his elite defense. His wingspan, athleticism, and natural instincts led him to become one of the best defenders in all of college basketball last season. A 6.4 Defensive Box Plus Minus, a 4.8 Block percentage (Ayton is at 6.1 and is a center) and 1.6 steals per game continue to enhance his resume as an elite defender. He should be able to contribute steals and the occasional block right away.
Philadelphia can also afford to be patient with his development because they have J.J. Redick and Robert Covington handling most of the minutes at the wing positions. Even if his shot does not develop, you still have an elite defender with amazing athleticism. If his shot becomes more consistent, Smith could become an All-Star caliber two way player in his career.
For Philadelphia this trade still has great potential even if Smith does not pan out, because of the Miami pick. In 2021, Goran Dragic would be 35 years old, and he might not still be in Miami. The Heat’s projected payroll is 2019-2020 is over 118 million dollars without a star player on the roster. In 2020-2021, it will drop, but they are still on the hook for the contracts of James Johnson ($16 million), Dion Waiters ($12.65 million) and Kelly Olynyk ($12.198 million).
They currently do not have a young player on the roster with two-way star potential. Bam Adebayo has great defensive potential, but he would not be a go-to guy on offense. It would not surprise me to see that pick end up in the top 5, and the lowest I could see it falling is late in the lottery. This deal has the potential to land the Sixers two young star players, and in today’s NBA that is a risk worth taking, especially since the East is suddenly wide open.