After a brutal start to his NBA career, there's finally good news regarding rookie Zhaire Smith.
Smith has been assigned to Delaware, where he "will begin by participating in the non-contact elements of the Blue Coats practices," according to a statement from the team. He'll be joined by big man Justin Patton, who will participate in practices with "with limited and controlled contact."
Smith, the 16th overall pick out of Texas Tech who was acquired by the Sixers in a draft-night trade with the Suns, suffered a Jones fracture in his left foot on Aug. 6 during a development camp in Las Vegas. Smith had successful surgery on Aug. 10 in New York City.
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Unfortunately, that's where Smith's issues were just beginning. Smith underwent a successful thoracoscopy on Sept. 27 to address an issue from an allergic reaction to a food product. While the team was aware that Smith had a peanut allergy, they found out he had multiple other allergies, including to sesame and different types of lettuce, after running a full allergy panel.
Because of all this, Smith's physical condition deteriorated. He lost weight and needed to regain his strength and conditioning.
Patton, who also suffered a Jones fracture in his right foot, was acquired from the Timberwolves in the deal that brought Jimmy Butler to the Sixers. He played in just one NBA game as a rookie last season after being selected 16th overall out of Creighton.
Before the season and before the Butler trade happened, it didn't seem like there would be a role or need for Smith. Things certainly changed and as the season went on, his defensive traits could've been a solid asset for the Sixers' bench.
"When we lost two players in [Robert Covington] and Dario [Saric] and you brought back one, there's something that's missing, just from a bodies standpoint there," Brett Brown said Dec. 21. "And then part of the attraction with Zhaire, although he is young, is if he can do anything, he can move his feet and guard. He's like a mini-Avery Bradley to me."
It's high praise, but not a crazy comparison. Like Bradley, Smith comes into the league with defensive tools but a raw offensive game.
Though the season certainly hasn't gone the way Smith would've liked, it seems like his health issues - that went well beyond a broken foot - are behind him.
Now he can go down to Delaware and just be a basketball player again.
Same goes for Patton, who's now been "the other guy" in two separate Jimmy Butler trades. The native of Omaha, Nebraska, is looking forward to his opportunity to get on the court in front of Sixers fans.
"I come from an environment where it's pretty tough also," Patton said to NBC Sports Philadelphia back on Dec. 3. "I'm not really afraid of that. It's going to be fun to play in front of [the fans.] It's going to be fun on the good days and the bad days. I'm just ready to get the bad days out of the way and hopefully have a lot of good days."
It doesn't seem likely at this point that either player could help this team during their run to the playoffs. Then again, who thought Corey Brewer, Jonah Bolden, Landry Shamet and T.J. McConnell would be leading the way for the Sixers' bench?
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