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June 27, 2023

A closer look at new Sixers two-way player Terquavion Smith

The Sixers signed Terquavion Smith on a two-way contract after the NBA Draft. Here's what you need to know about the former North Carolina State guard.

Terquavion Smith was secured on a two-way contract with the Sixers almost immediately after the 2023 NBA Draft closed, offering a bit of excitement for fans who sat around waiting for their favorite team to make something happen. Beloved by some draft experts for outrageous flashes as a shooter, the NC State product will now get his chance to prove himself in Philadelphia.

Let's take a closer look at what he brings to the table. 

An off-the-dribble weapon

If Terquavion Smith is going to do anything, he's going to get buckets. There is always room on an NBA roster for guys with the ability to score off the dribble, and Smith has been crushing opposing teams since scouts became aware of him (and presumably before that, too). Smith was a dominant high school player in North Carolina who decided to stay in his home state, with the only surprise being that he stuck with NC State after committing early in his high school career.

Smith has effectively unlimited range as a shooter, and he's comfortable in just about every scenario you could run a player through. As a pull-up player, it starts with his handle and his balance, with dribble moves flowing right into his shot release as if it's all one motion. Mechanically, that smoothness carries over to his catch-and-shoot ability, where he is ready to rise and fire the moment a pass hits his hands. Any player who is comfortable as a quick-release shooter has a potential home on this Sixers team, which always seems to be running short on those types of players. 

As he makes the transition from college to the pros, Smith's catch-and-shoot prowess should afford Smith some playing time even as he tries to figure out his ultimate ceiling as a pro — it's a bankable skill that scales well on a good team, with Smith making 39 percent of his catch-and-shoot jumpers last season. What's even more exciting is that he's not a one-trick pony as an off-ball threat. You could use him as a stationary target if need be, but Smith brings more value if you can tap into his ability to square his shoulders and hit shots off movement. Many of his catch-and-shoot makes came from well into NBA range at NC State, which should make translating his skill to the next level fairly seamless.

Provided that carries over to the big leagues, it will be interesting to see if Smith ever gets a shot to run some bench offense himself. Smith has a fluid stepback jumper and no shortage of confidence as he turns the corner in a pick-and-roll, so there's a world where he can offer a huge jolt of offense to a second unit. Any player as confident as Smith is in isolation is going to get an opportunity to stick somewhere, and scouts who tracked Smith closely were positive on his improvement as a playmaker between his freshman and sophomore seasons. Being a competent secondary playmaker seems like a realistic and important goal for him to strive for, allowing him to blend into different lineups more easily.

There is a disconnect between his ability and his results at the moment, but Smith profiles as a player who might just destroy lazy or passive coverages at the next level. He has an assortment of dribble moves, shows no fear or hesitation as a pull-up shooter, and can distort defenses on his best days by stretching them out far past normal coverage zones.

If he rounds out his weaknesses, Smith will be as fun to watch as anybody on the team.

Is he big enough to make it?

Skeptics of Smith need only to look at him to figure out the biggest concern for his pro prospects. I mean that literally — Smith is rail skinny, and it has impacted how he has played basketball up to this point.

Smith weighed in at just 163 pounds at the NBA combine, and that would be easier to dismiss as a young man's concern if it didn't have a present-day impact on his game. He shot just 51.3% at the rim last season and 50% there during his freshman year, and those numbers inflate his success because they include transition possessions. Smith's freshman season was an unmitigated disaster finishing in the halfcourt, and though he improved on his paint finishing in year two, this isn't a guy who enters the league with great options and counters going to the basket. He has worked on a floater, but he hasn't seen a whole lot of success with it yet. Proving he can get through or score around contact will be high atop the to-do list.

To illustrate the point — watch the highlights of his 32-point outburst against Creighton in the NCAA Tournament. Though he was able to finish a bunch of tough ones inside, Smith goes crashing to the floor on a lot of them. It did not hurt him in this game, but the overall results reflect a player who has work to do inside the arc:

In order to overcome that dire finishing ability at the hoop, Smith is going to need to be a lights-out shooter while playing a much less involved role than he has had in recent memory. The shorter college season makes hot and cold streaks feel bigger than they are, but consistency was a problem at times at NC State. A team like the Sixers can probably talk themselves into some of his problems being correctable with an appropriate role, using playing time as a means to control shot selection and quality. There's some logic to that if you look strictly at the craft, but it's a results business, and Smith did not blow you away with his strengths if we're strictly talking college percentages. He was just barely a 70 percent free-throw shooter on top of the other issues, which is not reassuring for those who subscribe to the belief that charity stripe success is a positive omen. 

Then there are the questions on defense, where his lack of size/strength poses issues. He'll be limited with who he can guard at the next level and is a potential switch-hunting target. That's the case for a large percentage of bench guards in the NBA, but it's certainly problematic on a team with iffy defenders at the guard spots as it is. The Sixers have worked to get away from one-trick players over the last couple of years, and Smith is one for the time being. The only solace is that scouts credited him for a noticeable improvement to his defensive engagement, if you believe playing hard can overcome what he lacks physically.

You essentially have to ask yourself if Smith can be a good enough shooter/scorer in order to overcome his flaws on both ends of the floor, and most of those flaws flow out of the same issue. Maybe you fill him up with enough protein and hit the weight room hard enough that a strength gain limits many of his weaknesses, allowing his skills to really pop. But it's more likely that he'll have limited opportunities to flash his signature skills as a result of what he can't do. The pro game is a rough business.

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