Zhaire Smith is the latest 76ers draft pick to suffer a major injury before his rookie season

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  • Zhaire Smith
    Zhaire Smith

It’s not exactly a grand tradition, but the Philadelphia 76ers’ first-round draft pick suffering an injury before even reaching his first professional training camp has become something of an annual occurrence all the same. The Sixers announced Tuesday that this year’s top selection, No. 16 overall pick Zhaire Smith, extended the grim custom during an offseason skills workout out west:

Rookie guard Zhaire Smith suffered a left foot injury during Tim Grgurich’s development camp in Las Vegas on Monday. He is returning to Philadelphia to be further evaluated and updates will be made available once a diagnosis is determined.

Specifics were initially scarce, but Yahoo Sports’ Shams Charania reported Tuesday afternoon that fans’ fears were warranted: the injury suffered by the 19-year-old is a literal bad break …

… and a kind with which the Sixers are, sadly, all too familiar.

It’s a brutal and unfortunate outcome of Smith attending Grgurich’s legendary Las Vegas camp. The renowned college and NBA assistant coach runs the weeklong effort away from the prying eyes of media, fans and agents, creating an atmosphere where pro coaches and players go through what Georgia coach Tom Crean called “NBA-style workouts” and “situation drills” intended to help younger players “prepare for different circumstances while remaining flexible” and vets sharpen the skills that will keep them at the top of their game as their careers progress.

“It’s as pure a basketball environment as there is,” Rick Carlisle, then the head coach of the Indiana Pacers, told Sports Illustrated back in 2004.

Now, it’s also the site of another entry in a years-long run of rough summertime injury luck for a 76ers draftee.

The 76ers’ run of first-round picks coming up hobbling before their first game continues

This is, remarkably, the sixth straight year in which one of Philadelphia’s prized young prospects has suffered a significant injury before ever taking the court for the team. To wit:

2013: No. 6 overall pick Nerlens Noel, selected after tearing his left ACL during his lone season at Kentucky, misses his entire would-be rookie season.

2014: No. 3 overall pick Joel Embiid, selected after suffering a stress fracture in his right foot, misses his entire would-be rookie season.

2015: Embiid suffers a summertime setback in his recovery from the foot fracture, requiring a second procedure that knocks him out for all of his second would-be rookie season.

Meanwhile, Philly’s 2015 lottery pick, No. 3 overall selection Jahlil Okafor, would actually suit up for the team to start the season … before suffering a meniscus tear that would end his rookie season and become a months-long fiasco, one of many factors (along with his own uneven play and the emergence of a finally-healthy Embiid) that eventually contributed to Okafor wanting and getting out of Philadelphia.

2016: No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons suffers a Jones fracture in his right foot in late September, and misses all of his would-be rookie season.

2017: No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz suffers an ankle injury that ends his stint at Las Vegas Summer League. When he turns up at Sixers training camp in September, his shooting form is drastically different, which he attributes to soreness in his right shoulder. After a troubling start to the season followed by conflicting reports from Fultz’s team and his agent about the nature of the issue, he’s benched to rest the shoulder, then shut down indefinitely with “scapular muscle imbalance,” winding up out of commission until late March. He misses 68 games, gets dumped from the rotation during Philly’s playoff run, and spends the next summer trying to shake a problem that might’ve actually had its roots a bit higher than his shoulders.

2018: No. 26 overall pick Landry Shamet suffers an ankle sprain in his first Summer League game, and is ruled out for the rest of the team’s stay in Vegas. And now, Smith’s going to have to come back from the Jones fracture.

Embiid addressed the “curse” on Twitter after the Smith news broke.

It remains to be seen how long it’ll take for Smith to return to action after surgical repair. Beyond that, it’s anybody’s guess how much longer it’ll be before the 6-foot-4, 200-pound guard with the 6-foot-9-3/4-inch wingspan and eye-popping athleticism — a player whose potential on the wing enticed head coach and post-burner-account interim decision-maker Brett Brown to ship local hero Mikal Bridges to Phoenix — will be fully up to speed in his efforts to break into the rotation of a Sixers club with its sights set on a second straight deep playoff run.

That already promised to be tough with the likes of incumbent veterans J.J. Redick, Robert Covington and Wilson Chandler on the wings, and young players like Fultz and Furkan Korkmaz also likely to push for minutes. Now, the former Texas Tech standout will be even further behind in the process of earning his NBA keep … if he even gets the chance this season.

As noted by Kyle Neubeck of PhillyVoice, “The usual quote on recovery time you’ll hear [after a Jones fracture] is about six to eight weeks.” That was the expected timetable when Kevin Durant suffered the same injury back in October of 2014. But while Durant did return to the lineup in early December, he never quite got right physically, missing time with an ankle sprain and needing to go back under the knife two more times after the All-Star break, eventually ending his season. And, in Simmons’ (admittedly somewhat curious) case, the then-Bryan Colangelo-led Sixers decided discretion was the better part of valor, preferring to keep the top pick on ice all year rather than risk any further complications with a late-season cameo.

Every player’s different, of course, and you can’t fully predict the outcome of one recovery effort based on previous experiences. While the Jones fracture scuttled Simmons’ expected debut and wreaked havoc on Durant’s season, it’s possible Smith could return sooner, and avoid being yet another Philly first-rounder to wind up taking an unwelcome redshirt year. You’d forgive Sixers fans, though, if they choose not to hold their breath.

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Dan Devine is a writer and editor for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@yahoosports.com or follow him on Twitter!

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