Cleveland Cavaliers: The curious case of JR Smith

Cleveland Cavaliers J.R. Smith (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images)
Cleveland Cavaliers J.R. Smith (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images) /

Gone are the days where we boast about the ‘throw-in’ that was JR Smith. Something seems to have changed with the Cleveland Cavaliers’ beloved two-guard. Is there any chance JR could be thrown out of Cleveland?

As of right now, prior to the game against the Trail Blazers, the Cavaliers are sitting at 3rd in the Eastern Conference. They have lost four of their last five games and three straight. There is a multitude of things we could point to in the Cavaliers poor end to the year of 2017. Point to the bench not playing as well as we’re accustomed to. Point to the Cavaliers overall poor shooting. OR, in this case, to JR Smith not playing like we have grown familiarized with.

Everybody who has watched the Cleveland Cavaliers play in the past four years knows that JR Smith is a streaky shooter. When he is hot, good luck stopping him. But when he is cold, he is a 31-minute per game black hole. When his shot isn’t falling, he doesn’t seem interested in playing the game at all. He has grown, with the Cavs, as a 3-and-D player. He takes the challenge of guarding the best player in the backcourt almost every night. Lately, however, it has been a severe mistake allowing JR to guard the likes of Klay Thompson and Donovan Mitchell.

Against Golden State, JR Smith struggled offensively and finished with two points on 0-for-5 shooting. Klay Thompson, however, did not struggle and scored 24 points on 53.3% shooting. Smith had an offensive rating of 58 and a defensive rating of 107.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with either of those stats, basically, JR was extremely bad, offensively and defensively. The tale seems to be, when JR struggles offensively it’s even worse defensively. Klay Thompson shot 71.4% from the field and 80% from deep with JR on the floor. With JR off the court, Klay shot 37.5% from the field and 0% from deep.

As you can clearly see in the video below, JR loses Thompson on a screen. JR attempts to recover, over-commits on a pump-fake, and Thompson nails an open three. Now, the Warriors do a phenomenal job at getting Thompson open, but it isn’t impossible to defend.

When Kyle Korver had the opportunity to guard Thompson, he put forth the effort of jumping screens in order to stay attached to Thompson and deny open shots.

Similarly, against the Utah Jazz, Donovan Mitchell lit up the Cavs for 29 points on 58.8% shooting. Smith had an offensive rating of 73 and defensive rating of 114. Again, an instance where JR struggles offensively and his defense takes a massive hit. Mitchell shot 66.4% when JR was on the floor and 0% when he was off. Granted, he only took 2 shots with JR on the bench.

In this video, we can see JR put forth minimal effort in disallowing Mitchell to cut right past him for an easy, highlight-making dunk.

These are just two examples of how JR has been playing this year in a Cavs uniform. However, if you look back at the Cavaliers games this year there is a correlation with JR’s bad offensive games and defensive games. Sadly, there are more bad than good. JR has a net rating (offensive rating – defensive rating) of 0.5, and for a two-way player that is not good, especially considering most of his minutes are with LeBron James on the court. To put it into context, Kyle Korver, who is less athletic and more limited defensively than JR, has a net rating of 10.8, one of the team’s highest.

While it would be easy to say that JR Smith should be traded, the hard truth is that he probably won’t be. He is in his 15th season and on a four-year deal worth $57 million. Nobody wants a salary like that, especially with a player who seems to be on a decline. The only option is to hope that JR can find the will to play defense all game even when his shot isn’t falling.

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The Cleveland Cavaliers will be in a world of trouble if his woes continue.