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Another strange rookie tale with Zhaire Smith

The Philadelphia 76ers have an unfortunate history of health mishaps occurring with their first-round picks. The latest is Zhaire Smith, who might not play this season due to an allergic reaction to sesame seeds. If healthy, where would Smith have fit in the rotation and is there still time for him to contribute?

Zhaire Smith was supposed to be the final piece of the Philadelphia 76ers rotation on its current roster when he was scheduled to take the court in December after suffering a summer foot injury, but now it has been delayed due to:

Sesame seeds?

According to multiple reports, Smith suffered a bad reaction to food that included either sesame seeds or oil, which Smith was unknowingly allergic too.

As reported by The Ringer, Smith has lost about 20 pounds due to the complications from the allergic reaction. Considering on the Sixers official roster Smith only weighed 199 pounds to begin with on his 6-foot-4 frame, that is a significant loss of weight.

This news comes a few days after Mikal Bridges came back to his home area as the starting small forward of the Phoenix Suns. The Great Valley High and Villanova University standout scored 13 points against the 76ers.

For those with short memories, Bridges was drafted in June by the Sixers with the No. 10 pick in the NBA draft. It was a great, feel good story, local boy makes good and gets to play for his hometown team … for about 20 minutes. Then, it was announced he was traded to Phoenix for Smith (who the Suns had drafted at No. 16) and an unprotected 2021 first-round pick Phoenix had from Miami.

How the trade will stack up for the Sixers can not be valued for a while. Besides not knowing what will happen with the Miami pick (trade chip or held onto to take a player), what Smith will become as a player may not be known for possibly another year.

The Sixers, since Same Hinkie took over as general manager, have started an unwanted tradition, continued by his replacements Bryan Colangelo, Brett Brown and Elton Brand, of its top draft pick not playing a full season their rookie year — if at all.

Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid (two seasons) and Ben Simmons all missed their first year in the NBA due to injury. Jahlil Okafor had his rookie season curtailed with knee problems, Markelle Fultz only played 14 games due to … whatever, and now Smith has been beset with health problems.

After a fairly successful summer league, shortly thereafter Smith suffered a broken bone in his foot while participating in a skills camp in Las Vegas.

Coach Brown said he expected Smith to be available to play sometime in December. While not ideal, it at least gave him five months of regular season NBA action to get acclimated to the team and worked into the rotation before the all-important playoffs.

He was never expected to be a main cog in the team because as a converted undersized college power forward, Smith has a lot of fundamentals to work on as a wing player. It was hoped the highly-athletic Smith could contribute as a rookie being a defensive stopper when it faced teams  who feature quick wing players. That had been a major problem for the Sixers in last season’s Eastern Conference semifinals against Boston.

Unfortunately, that December start date has been pushed back — possibly into next season.

The only official statements from the 76ers about Smith’s newest malady  are that Smith had a thoracoscopy on Sept. 26 due to an allergic reaction to a food product an then, on Nov. 9 that he had received additional treatment and no timetable has been set for his return.

Reportedly, the team knew Smith was allergic to peanuts and had made sure his food did not include it. However, it turns out he is also allergic to sesame seeds and apparently he ingested food with either sesame seeds or sesame oil in them.

This development is particularly damaging to a raw player like the 19-year-old Smith, since he needs practice time to work on his ball-handling and shooting, two things necessary for swing players in the NBA. These are skills he did not need to use much in college since he played close to the basket.

If, somehow, Smith had been available to avoid the 76ers rookie curse and came into training camp completely healthy, would Brown have found a role for him in the rotation? Absolutely.

Jimmy Butler (and before him Robert Covington) is the only player on the team that is seen as a lock-down defender of guards/small forwards.  Brown wants to keep the high-energy Butler fresh for the playoffs, so having someone extremely athletic he can plug in to guard the likes of Devin Booker and Kemba Walker when Butler is out, would have been quite valuable.

The Sixers do not have anyone currently who fills the role of defensive wing stopper off the bench. Smith would have probably seen about 12-15 minutes a game, which would have been perfect as it would have put little pressure on him while he worked on other aspects of his game.

The problem with the setbacks due to the sesames is that, because of his problems recovering from it, Smith has done virtually no work on the basketball work since August. He has had no chance to stay in shape or work on anything, or even just play some pickup to keep a ball in his hands.

Once he actually gets cleared to play, a time truly up in the air, he will need to get into condition and learn all the plays and nuances of a team already a few months into the season to contribute this year. If that is not possible, it won’t be until the 2019-20 that Smith makes his NBA debut.

Could Zhaire Smith still carve some kind of a role for himself at some point in the season? It is certainly possible, if he shows the defensive acumen Brown believes he has in him. Boston still has all those athletic wings and Butler can not guard them all.

Next: 4 potential trades if the Wizards implode

But, until the point Smith can return to action, Sixers fans must have one thought on their mind about his situation: Nuts!



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