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J.R. Smith: Great Teammate or Poison Pill?

He’s a vital spark to the Cleveland Cavaliers’ offense. The President of the United States tweeted about his shooting abilities during a Q&A on Climate Change. The quote in his high school yearbook read: “Get chicks or die trying.” He’s J.R. Smith, and love him or hate him, he won’t change for anybody.

Earl Joseph Smith III was heavily recruited out of high school to play at the University of North Carolina. Despite that temptation, Smith declared himself eligible for the 2004 NBA Draft. He was selected 18th overall by the New Orleans Hornets, and as a rookie one thing was clear about Smith’s game: He could score.

Not much has changed since that early assessment of Smith. Scoring with the jump shot has been, and always will be, the prime candidate of Smith’s approach, and it’s been well exhibited throughout his time with the Cavs. In Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Atlanta Hawks, he attempted 16 shots, and 12 of them were three-point attempts. In a regular-season game on April 5, he attempted 17 shots, all of them from behind the arc. Smith is never afraid to shoot the ball.

This “live or die by the three-ball” tactic is great when it’s working. But Smith’s shoot-my-way-out-of-a-slump approach is a painful entity that New York Knicks fans know too well. Not to mention the Hornets or the Denver Nuggets, where Smith admitted to the media that he’d purposely put up bad shots to anger then Nuggets coach George Karl. The Cavs have yet to view this side of Smith, due to the fact that they’re winning and Smith is happy. Naturally, a lot of this can be credited to LeBron James, who has embraced the point-guard role in the playoffs as Kyrie Irving has been nursing injuries.

Smith has also never been shy to showcase his feelings on social media, where it has simultaneously gotten him in trouble and gained him fame. This season, all is well in Cleveland, so Smith’s antics and foolish words to the media just seem cute. But hypothetically, if Smith goes into a shooting funk in the Finals, (they can come out of nowhere), his response to the media will not be a good one.

Teams love Smith for his spark, which is why he’s often highly sought after. But the fact remains that he’s been on four teams in his career (five if you include his time in China) because in each case, the team he was on had enough of his personality.

Can he put aside the tweets, the rumors, the conceived notions and continue to just play ball? So far so good. But, as usual, his own words have provided the answer for Smith’s success and approach to the game of basketball. Upon arriving to Cleveland via Knicks trade, Smith was asked about fitting in with the offense. He explained, “when in doubt, I just shoot the ball.” Smith also clarified that Cleveland is the best situation for him because there’s no New York-style night life and “it’s nothing but basketball.”

Alas, Smith and Cleveland fans have claimed he’s had a re-birth in Cleveland. Fat chance. He’s the same player he’s always been throughout his career. The same shot hoisting, at times electric, angrily streaky player who epitomizes a love/hate relationship.

Smith is four wins away from having something not many would have expected: a championship ring. If the Cavs wish to win it all, he’ll need to be a vital contributor in the shooting game, as he’s been so far in the playoffs.

Despite the fact that he’s 6’6″ and at times displays freakish athleticism while driving to the rim, he’ll sit back and let the shots fly. That’s just who he is. And if the Cavs win the Finals you can guarantee there will be drinks and a new tattoo. One can only wonder if he has enough room for one. Hard to doubt that he won’t make it work, because his tattoo approach is just like his shooting: overwhelming and at times stubborn.

But he’s not changing for anyone … he’s J.R. Swish.

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