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The Philadelphia 76ers still have nightmares thinking about the 2018 NBA Draft. For just about an hour, the Sixers had star Villanova forward Mikal Bridges in their hands, but they decided to trade the Philadelphia native to the Phoenix Suns for high-flying Texas Tech guard Zhaire Smith.

Yes, the same Zhaire Smith who nearly died from a severe allergic reaction that occurred a few months after the draft and is now out of the NBA completely.

As if that wasn’t painful enough for the 76ers, Bridges is quickly turning into one of the most feared defenders in the entire league, which is only turning Philly’s epic draft mistake into even more of a disaster.

The 76ers trading for Zhaire Smith in 2018 was an epic mistake

Drafting Bridges in 2018 almost made too much sense for the 76ers.

He grew up in Philadelphia, won two NCAA championships at nearby Villanova University, and his mother even worked in the Sixers’ home arena as the VP of Human Resources for Harris Blitzer Sports and Entertainment. Philadelphia was also in need of a talented wing who could make open threes, create off the dribble, and lock down the opponent’s best player.

It was the perfect marriage.

Until it wasn’t.

Shortly after Bridges shook Adam Silver’s hand with a 76ers hat on his head and a huge smile on his face, the Philly native was traded to the Suns for Smith and a future first-round pick. The 76ers bought into the notion that Smith could become the NBA’s next Kawhi Leonard, but that’s not exactly how he panned out.

A few months after the draft, Smith found himself in the hospital due to a severe allergic reaction. Doctors found a tear in Smith’s esophagus, and he wasn’t able to eat solid foods for weeks. He lost 40 pounds over the course of the terrifying endeavor, and he realistically could’ve lost his life.

Thankfully, Smith fully recovered and was able to eventually get on the court for the 76ers, but injuries started to pile up, and the first-round draft pick ended up playing just 13 total games with the team. Last November, the Sixers traded Smith to the Detroit Pistons, but he was later waived by his new team and hasn’t played in an NBA game since.

Mikal Bridges is quickly turning into a star for the Suns

The 76ers should be kicking themselves watching Mikal Bridges this season.
Mikal Bridges of the Phoenix Suns dribbles up the court during a game against the Golden State Warriors | Christian Petersen/Getty Images

While Smith was struggling to even get on the floor for the 76ers early in his career, Bridges was thriving for the Suns. The talented wing started 56 games as a rookie and has become an everyday starter for the team over the last two seasons.

Bridges had the best year of his career in 2020-21, and he was a major reason why Phoenix was able to reach the NBA Finals. But he’s only improved since then.

Not only has Bridges carried his strong shooting numbers into this season (54% from the field, 40.5% from three), but he’s also become one of the best on-ball defenders in the NBA. The 25-year-old is averaging 1.5 steals and 0.6 blocks per game, and his 1.1 defensive win shares rank second on the team behind only Chris Paul.

In the Suns’ recent win against the Golden State Warriors, Bridges matched up with Stephen Curry and held the future Hall of Famer to just 4-for-21 from the field, which is the worst shooting performance of his career. Bridges is a legitimate contender to win Defensive Player of the Year in 2022.

Just what the 76ers are missing

If it seems as if the 76ers have been searching for a two-way wing to pair alongside Joel Embiid ever since the center entered the league, that’s because it’s true. Philly found exactly that in 2018, but the front office went for a 360 dunk instead of the sure layup they already had in the palm of their hands.

And they missed in miserable fashion.

Now with Ben Simmons out of the lineup, the 76ers are in need of a lockdown defender who can take his place. Bridges could’ve been exactly that, but he’s out in the desert thriving with a legitimate championship contender.

It wasn’t the Sixers’ fault that Smith’s NBA career fell flat on its face, but this franchise seems to be allergic to making wise draft decisions.

All stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.

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