In the Eastern Conference Finals, Cleveland Cavaliers shooting guard J.R. Smith put up 18 points per game. He shot a red-hot 47 percent from three and grabbed 7.5 rebounds per game. The Atlanta Hawks had no answer, as the Cavaliers swept the Hawks en route to the Finals, where things suddenly went very south for Smith. In the Finals, Smith shot an abysmal 29 percent from three, and just couldn’t get anything going for his team. And for a team that was desperate for anyone to help LeBron James, this cold shooting couldn’t have come at a more inopportune time.
Smith is a basketball enigma. His ability to knock down difficult shots is uncanny, and at times truly breathtaking. But as is the obvious problem with that blessed ability, is that Smith will often get in shooting slumps and do what he can to get out of them. And what does a shooter do when he’s in a slump? Keep shooting. ‘Twas the story for Smith and the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals.
Piling all of the blame for the series on Smith certainly isn’t right. Many expected great shooting numbers from him after his dynamite performance in playoff games prior, but this is the way Smith has been throughout his entire career. The Cavaliers should’ve anticipated this sort of streaky play upon trading for him. Not to mention nobody on the Cavs was able to generate any scoring consistency in the Finals besides James.
So what’s next for Smith? He’s already publicly stated that he plans to opt out of the final year of his contract. His athleticism and ability to score in bunches is a lure to many teams, and that’s why he’s always highly sought after. And while he’s definitely a great addition to a team, he shouldn’t be the scorer who’s vital to the team’s success. That’s how things were when he was a member of the New York Knicks, and the team suffered. It became the same situation in the Finals for the Cavaliers as well, as they were trying to overcome multiple injuries. Smith is a spark and can be sensational, but as a coach, you have to be aware of when he has the hot hand.
What’s arguably most bewildering about Smith is that he often displays superhuman athleticism when driving to the rim, and yet is very focused on being a jump shooter. When Smith has a little room to get to the basket, he’s as sensational as any athlete in the NBA:
But his stubbornness to attempt shots can make him a difficult player to coach at times, as he often bumped heads with George Karl in Denver and Mike Woodson in New York.
And yet …the lure remains. The temptation to add this athlete onto any roster is there for most teams. Smith has made it clear that despite opting out of his deal, he wishes to stay in Cleveland. The numbers of his contract offer will be interesting to say the least, as Smith provided an incredibly accurate depiction of his enigmatic play throughout the playoffs.
Smith is unpredictable and he clearly feeds off confidence. But his erratic play is what makes him human. That understandable humanism was clear in his write up for the The Cauldron where he shared the emotional process of being traded in the NBA.
So even though he can cause fans to pull their hair out, he can take control of a game as well. On July 1, Smith will be a free agent. What will happen in the next chapter of his career? Only time will tell, but if there’s any player in this league who could provide an entertaining reality show, it’s Smith.
“Keeping Up With J.R. Swish.” Seriously, that show would do well.