It has been announced early Monday afternoon that the Los Angeles Lakers are finalizing a deal to sign Guard J.R. Smith for the remainder of the season.
Smith, 35, is looking to assist the Lakers in their pursuit of a championship in this shortened season. Before that, he was in the NBA Finals with the Cavaliers in 2018. This year is significant because of recency bias regarding Smith, who notoriously lost track of how much time was left in the game.
For many, this sequence (and subsequent meme) is their lasting image of JR, who was waived early into the following season.
Despite this, Cavs fans remember the hard-working, offensive-minded player who was the 2012-13 Sixth Man of the Year award and an important piece to the 2015-16 championship Cleveland Cavaliers team.
After Avery Bradley announced his intention of not playing in the NBA restart, the Lakers had until Tuesday to fill the additional roster spot.
While JR left the NBA on a down note on top of a down year, the Lakers obviously see something that they think will bring value and raise their chances at winning a title.
What will J.R. Smith bring to the Lakers?
For those familiar with his game, the most obvious value Smith brings is as a shooter. The soon to be 35-year-old holds a career mark of 37.3% from behind the arc, making 2 three-pointers a game. His playoff numbers are eerily similar.
In fact, J.R. once held the record for most three-point field goals in a game when he made 11 back in April of 2009. In a less impressive feat, in 2014 he set the record for most three-point field goals attempted in a game with 22. Albeit 10 of those attempts found the bottom of the net which is pretty darn good.
Obviously three-point shooting is a great asset to have, especially with Lebron, but there are other reasons the Lakers decided that Smith was the best fit for their vacant spot.
J.R. Swish, as some like to call him, is primarily an off-ball player but is fully capable of playing with the ball in his hands and being a score-first point guard. As a point guard, he is essentially the opposite of Rajon Rondo.
An example of a weakness the Lakers had throughout the season was an inability to score when Lebron wasn’t on the court.
With Rondo as the primary ball-handler, he rarely threatened to score and the defense was fully aware of that.
Guarding him well of the ball, it made it much more difficult for others to score while also daring Rondo to force up shots, which for him are low percentage shots. The addition of JR, and to an extent Dion Waiters, should directly help in this respect.
Another major factor that contributed to the Lakers signing JR is his ability to defend.
While he certainly is not a great defender and is definitely a downgrade from Bradley, Smith has shown to be fully capable of guarding point guards and shooting guards when he puts in the effort.
With fresh legs, something to prove, and a championship in sight, there’s no reason to believe he won’t put in that effort.
Finally, the former 18th overall pick has two areas which play into his favor: familiarity with Lebron and playoff experience.
Being able to acclimate himself quickly to the team and play important minutes in important games is critical for the success of Smith and the Lakers.
Over the course of his career, Smith has played in a total of 130 playoff games and logged 3,834 minutes. This demonstrates that the stage will never be too big for him, which can’t be said about guys with no playoff experience (Kyle Kuzma, Alex Caruso, and even Anthony Davis).
In summary, if J.R. Smith can play within himself, meaning he’s not shooting 22 three-pointers a game and chucking up shots for fun. Because of this, he will be a valuable addition to the Lakers.
With the subtraction of Bradley, the Lakers lost an elite defender.
That said, the addition of Smith fixes that loss. Furthermore, Smith already has established chemistry with Lebron, shooting prowess, and experience of the game’s highs and lows.
Let’s just cross our fingers and pray that his reunion with Lebron goes better than how it ended originally. Here’s hoping that Smith can be an important piece in winning his second and the Lakers 17th NBA Championship.
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