J.R. Smith Will Decide the NBA Finals

May 25, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith (5) reacts after a dunk in the first quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers in game five of the Eastern conference finals of the NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
May 25, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith (5) reacts after a dunk in the first quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers in game five of the Eastern conference finals of the NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports /

Bold Prediction: J.R. Smith will decide who wins the NBA Finals.

This isn’t a bold prediction for bold predictions sake. Instead, there a quite a few reasons to believe that the mercurial but matured J.R. Smith will decide who is hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy over their heads.

The Golden State Warriors are led by their 3 headed monster of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. They also have talented players in Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguodala, Andrew Bogut and Shaun Livingston.

The Cleveland Cavaliers are led by their Big 3 of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. They also have talented players in Tristan Thompson, Channing Frye, Iman Shumpert, Richard Jefferson and Matthew Dellavedova.

With all that talent, especially the top 3 on each team, how can J.R. Swish be the man that decides the NBA Champion? Let me break it down.

First, I expect the stars to be stars. Green, Love and even Irving might have off nights but the stars of this series will play well. Curry and Thompson will hit shots, LeBron will control the game, Irving will score, Love will rebound, shoot and play from the post and Draymond will annoy everyone, run the point-forward and hit some shots.

The stars are going to play very well for each side. They will each have their highs and lows but will contribute to the success of their team perfectly.

Second, most of the role players on both sides have just that “a role.” They are useful at what they do.

For the Cavs, Thompson is a versatile defender who rebounds. Frye is a shooter. Shumpert is a defender. RJ is a veteran presence for short stints. Delly is a plus size defender at guard.

For the Warriors, Barnes and Iggy are defenders. Livingston initiates the offense and plays solid defense. Bogut blocks shots and gets rebounds.

That isn’t to minimize the talent of those players but they all have very specific roles that they play for their teams. This is partially to do with the stars that surround them but in limited roles, they will likely have limited impacts.

While everyone searches for an “X-Factor” out of these role players, none will decide the series. One or two might have a good game, or stretch during a game, but they won’t decide who wins the NBA Title.

That brings us back to J.R. Smith. Smith is often thought of as a role player. Those who haven’t followed the Cavs think of him as a shooter and a knucklehead. The first part is still right but the second has gone away and been replaced by something else: a defender.

While Smith struggled against the herky, jerky style of DeMar DeRozan in the last round, his defense against Kyle Korver forced the Atlanta Hawks to bring him off the bench.

Going to have to repeat that: Because of Smith’s defense, the Hawks brought the best shooter over the last few years off the bench so that he wasn’t guarded by J.R. as much.

The Cavs played Korver perfectly. He is a 3 point shooter who can kill you on spot ups, off picks and even pulling up or stepping back. Korver, like Klay Thompson, has a certain candence to his game. A candence that allowed JR to deny him the ball and force him off his spots.

Against J.R. Smith and the Cavs, Korver averaged only 7.5 points and shot 43% from the field. Not bad shooting but J.R. forced him into 1.5 less 3 pointers per game, and 2 shots less from the field overall.

On defense, expect the Cavs to use a similar strategy on Thompson. Expect J.R. to deny him the ball while hoping for help from Thompson and others on backdoor cuts, something the Warriors do very well. The Cavs will try to keep Thompson from getting the ball in his comfort zones, which JR showed against Korver he can do.

Klay Thompson has a candence to how he plays the game. JR stuggled against DeRozan who didn’t really have “spots” and his candence was unpredictable. Smith should fair better against Thompson, who is better than both Korver and DeRozan but is someone JR can get after.

Last year, as the Cavs #2 offensive option, Smith ran out of gas and struggled against Klay at times.

This year, Smith can have a huge impact on the offense but not as the focal point. JR is still a pure shooter, with only the occasional forays into the paint. However, his ability to hit shots from anywhere, any angle and with any defense on him is top notch. Mr. 911 can bail the Cavs out of tough spots and put the dagger in opponents.

Playing off of the Cavs’ Big 3 has allowed JR to conserve his energy for defense and be ready to shoot whenever the ball comes his way. The gravity of having Smith on the floor with Kevin Love and/or Channing Frye opens up huge lanes for LeBron and Kyrie.

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Even without shooting a shot, Smith makes a huge impact on defenses.

Against the Raptors, JR was run ragged trying to guard DeRozan. So far in the Playoffs, Smith is averaging 12 points on 46% from the 3 point line. Versus the Raptors, those numbers dip to 11.7 and 40% from deep. Against the Hawks he hit 50% from deep.

LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and the rest will all have their part to play in the NBA Finals. J.R. Smith’s part is smaller but, on both ends of the floor, will be decisive for this series.

Do you think J.R. Smith will be this important to the NBA Finals?