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Zhaire Smith wore number 2 in honor of favorite player, Kawhi Leonard

Zhaire Smith, Kawhi Leonard

Zhaire Smith entered Texas Tech’s campus as a three-star recruit, which was not an ideal designation for a future NBA first-round pick. And yet, there was Smith getting called in the 2018 NBA Draft on Thursday as the class’ 16th pick overall by the Phoenix Suns.

Smith was later traded to the Philadelphia 76ers along with a future first-round pick in exchange for Mikal Bridges. Following that transaction, among the first decisions Smith made as a professional was what number he would wear. According to Keith Pompey, Smith likely would have gone for no. 2 — the same number he donned in Lubbock — because he idolizes San Antonio Spurs superstar Kawhi Leonard.

However, he’s not allowed to do that since the number has already been retired in honor of the late and great Sixers big man, Moses Malone. Instead, Smith settled for no. 8 in honor of Kobe Bryant.

Like Kawhi Leonard, Kobe Bryant was an immense figure at both ends of the floor. Smith showed flashes of great two-way play abilities in his one year in Texas Tech in which he averaged 11.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.1 steals, and 1.1 blocks per game, so Brett Brown comparing him Smith to Leonard is not that much of a reach at all.

Smith’s ability to keep in step with quick guards and the willingness to bang bodies with heftier swingmen are among his best skills that many see would translate well in the NBA. Hopefully for the Sixers, that would be the case right in Smith’s first season in the league.