What J.R. Smith Brings to the Lakers

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CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 08: JR Smith #5 of the Cleveland Cavaliers warms up prior to Game Four of the 2018 NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors at Quicken Loans Arena on June 8, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio.

After over a year of not playing professional basketball, J.R. Smith finally has a new home in the NBA. That home is with the Los Angeles Lakers, one of the leagueís leading title contenders.

The Lakers picked up Smith as a replacement for shooting guard Avery Bradley, who chose to sit out the NBAís return.†

 What does a J.R. Smith acquisition mean for the Lakers?

For starters, thereís the unpredictable side of Smith that no team wants. Heís had several off-court issues and made one of the most infamous mistakes in NBA Finals history in 2018.

This history would likely turn most teams away from Smith. But the Lakers werenít one of those teams.

They overlooked his antics and saw him as a legitimate contributor, which is precisely what Smith is when at his best. He was extremely effective during the Cavsí 2016 championship run. Across that stretch, Smith started all 21 postseason games and averaging 11.5 points per game on 43% shooting from beyond the arc. Heís also a former 6th Man of the Year.

The Reality

Unfortunately, itís unlikely the Lakers will get a J.R. Smith of this caliber. Heís four years removed from that impressive playoff run, and his playing days are nearing their end. Smith turns 35 in a few months.

We havenít seen Smith suit up for an NBA game since 2018. With that in mind, he may be too rusty to produce in the playoffs consistently.

Even worse, those last few games that Smith played were ugly. He played in 11 contests at the start of the 2018-2019 season. He won just one game and posting career lows in points per game (6.7) and field goal percentage (34.2%).†

The 11-game sample size isnít enough to suggest that Smithís talent is completely lost, but it isnít reassuring. Still, the Lakers picking up Smith shows they have faith in the veteran.

Assuming the signing pays off, the Lakers could be getting one of the gameís best tough shot makers with championship experience. Heíd give LA extra outside shooting and defense at the wing position, two skills that playoff teams canít get enough of. Smith even stated that this is exactly what he plans on bringing to the Lakers, per Mike Trudell.

Smithís shooting is even more critical because of his reunion with former teammate and longtime friend LeBron James. James, the league leader in assists per game, has thrived throughout his career when surrounded by elite catch-and-shoot shooters such as Smith.

With the Lakers centering much of their offense around him as a facilitator, itís imperative that James has shooters to create open shots for. Smithís success alongside James on the Cavs shows that he can fill that need perfectly.

Defensively

Defensively, Smith doesnít offer anything spectacular. Heís past his athletic prime and is a clear downgrade from Avery Bradley as an on-ball defender.

This isnít to say that Smith is some horrible defender, though. Heís been part of several successful defensive systems throughout his career and has an impressive 6í10Ē wingspan. And with other solid perimeter defenders like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Alex Caruso surrounding him, Smith wonít be needed to guard the opponentís best outside scorer.

Itís pretty tough to predict how much J.R. Smith will affect the Lakersí chances as the season resumes. Thereís even a chance he loses most of his minutes to his younger teammates that are already familiar with the system.

But if given a chance to shine, Smith has proven his worth as a valuable playoff asset. Itís just a matter of whether or not the Lakers will get that version of Smith.

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