How Did It Work Out? Cavaliers Trade For Shumpert and Smith


It’s the end of July and the slow period of the NBA year is upon us. Summer league is over, free agency is dying down, and the start of training camp is over two months away. With that in mind, King James Gospel will run a series of pieces taking a look back at the moves the Cleveland Cavaliers made in the last year to assemble the 2015 Eastern Conference Champions. First up, a look back at the trade for Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith.

Cavalier fans will never forget January 5, 2015. The Cavs were in Philadelphia to face the 76ers, and things weren’t going well. The team was underachieving, in part because of pieces that weren’t fitting together. One of the pieces, Dion Waiters, was supposed to make a rare start in his hometown due to both Kyrie Irving and LeBron James being out with injuries. However, shortly before the game started, Waiters disappeared along with Alex Kirk and Lou Amundson. Cavalier play-by-play man Fred McLeod said that those players were being held out of the game due to being involved in trade talks, and the internet erupted. Before the game (an excruciating loss to the Sixers) was over, the world knew that Waiters had been sent to the Oklahoma City Thunder, Kirk, Amundson, and a 2019 second round pick were heading to the New York Knicks, and the Cavaliers had acquired Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith from the Knicks and a protected first round pick from the Thunder.

What Worked

While taking on Smith was originally the price for acquiring Shumpert, the enigmatic swingman wound up finding a comfortable home in Cleveland. While many felt the Smith would be a poor offensive fit in a similar way to Waiters, it turned out nothing was further from the truth. Smith is a better (and more willing) three point shooter than Waiters, and the Cavaliers encouraged him to let it fly from beyond the arc. The results were terrific as Smith shot 39% from three on a whopping 7.3 attempts per game. He also curtailed his other shots, averaging just 3.7 two-point attempts per game, and shooting a solid 49.4% on those attempts. Smith’s true shooting percentage jumped from 48.7% with the Knicks to 56.5% with the Cavs. He wound up starting at shooting guard for the rest of the regular season and the first round of the playoffs as his ability to space the floor alongside the James, Irving, and Kevin Love allowed the offense to really take off.

Once he recovered from a separated shoulder injury he suffered with the Knicks, Shumpert immediately provided the kind of perimeter defense the Cavaliers sorely needed. Prior to Shumpert’s addition the Cavaliers were allowing perimeter players to attack the rim at will. Shumpert’s ability to guard both point and shooting guards, along with some small forwards, helped turn the Cavaliers’ defense around, while sparing LeBron James from having to cover the opposing team’s best perimeter player the entire game. He also showed the ability to handle the ball and run the offense a bit, and began to emerge as an offensive threat in the playoffs before another shoulder injury curtailed his game on that end of the floor.

Another benefit of this trade was the flipping of Oklahoma City’s first round pick in the trade for Timofey Mozgov two days later, but we’ll get to that another time.

What Didn’t

With Smith, the problems came when it mattered most, in the playoffs. First there was the embarrassingly stupid punch to Jae Crowder that earned him a two-game suspension. Then there was his play in the Finals. When the Cavaliers needed him most, J.R. Smith fell apart, shooting just 31.2% from the field and 29.4% from beyond the arc. He also lacked focus on defense and committed several foolish fouls throughout the series, including another technical foul in Game Six. This continued a trend of poor playoff performances for Smith, and his ability to handle the pressure of playing for a championship was justifiably called into question. Now he has opted out of his $6.4 million player option for next season, only to find little market for his services. While the Cavaliers will look to bring him back at a discount, will he be happy and focused in that scenario?

Shumpert’s focus was never an issue, but there are concerns with the newly-resigned swingman. Shumpert projects as a “3-and-D” type of player who can handle the ball, but will the offense really get there? Shumpert has shot just 39.6% from the floor and 34.2% from three for his career. With the Cavaliers, his field goal percentage was at 41% and he shot 33.8% from three. Both of these numbers are below league average and brings into question whether he can really help space the floor for the rest of his teammates. A player who has never had a true shooting percentage above 51.6% is a below-average offensive player, and in his fifth year in the league, it’s fair to wonder if that’s just who Shumpert is. When you also take into account Shumpert’s injury history, it’s not quite a sure thing that he is at the level of a starter on a championship team.

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What’s Next

The first order of business will be to resign Smith, whom the Cavaliers are said to be meeting with soon. As stated above, GM David Griffin needs to find a balance between bringing Smith back on a contract that works for the Cavs, but not slighting Smith to the point where he becomes a distraction this season. While Griffin may be looking for alternatives to Smith, he’s the best free agent wing still available, and there’s no guarantee they could find a better player with Brendan Haywood’s unique contract.

Final Grade B+

While neither Smith nor Shumpert are a shooting guard the caliber of Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade, or even Danny Green, they have been tremendous fits for the Cavaliers. Shumpert’s defense and Smith’s ability to space the floor helped the Cavaliers reach their stride on both ends of the court, and the team played significantly better after their additions. This trade was also essential in completing the Mozgov trade two days later. The only reason this this trade didn’t receive an A was Smith’s play in the Finals. Still, it was a tremendous move by Griffin that helped upgrade both the starting lineup and the bench. It’s hard to expect any more than that.

Next: How Richard Jefferson Fits with Cavs