How JR Smith Fits In With Lakers Now As Avery Bradley’s Roster Replacement

When Avery Bradley opted out of traveling to Orlando, FL with the Los Angeles Lakers, all eyes were set on one player in particular to take his spot on the roster:

JR Smith.

The man whose last memorable moment was one that might go down as one of the biggest blunders in all of sports history (see Game 1 of 2018 NBA Finals).

With Smith officially signed now, he will look to redeem himself and slot into a role that he should be perfectly suited to succeed in. He will not be capable of filling the hole that Bradley left behind on the defensive end, but hopefully, he will not have to.

With Danny Green, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Alex Caruso already familiar with the defensive scheme, they should be the guards picking up Bradley’s minutes.

This leaves Smith with the opportunity to come into the game and provide the Lakers with some serious offensive firepower off the bench (if he is in shape).

However, scoring is not the only reason the Lakers signed Smith.

They could have gone after Iman Shumpert, Trey Burke, or Tyler Johnson instead, but there is one thing that separates Smith from them: championship pedigree.

The players mentioned have appeared in a combined 92 playoff games while Smith has racked up 130 — with 79 of them alongside LeBron James. Having players that have played on the biggest stage before is something that is essential to the makeup of a championship-caliber team. There will be times during the playoffs — now more than ever due to the never before seen ‘bubble’ the NBA is implementing — that the less experienced players might freeze up under the spotlight.

Although it can sometimes be a curse as much as it can a blessing, Smith has never seen a shot that he does not like and never backs away from a big moment.

That is why James, Green, Quinn Cook, and Smith now are so valuable because they have the experience needed to know how much it takes to win it all.

The world surely remembers Smith’s mishap, but do not forget he also shot 36.7 percent from the three-point line in the 2018 Finals, which was the second-highest of anyone on the Cleveland Cavaliers. More specifically, Smith knocked down 56.3 percent of his corner threes in four games against the Golden State Warriors.

To put that into perspective, Kyle Kuzma and Jared Dudley are the only Lakers shooting above 50 percent from the corner through the first 63 games of the 2019-20 NBA season. Smith’s ability to make defenders guard him in the corner will only create more space for James and Anthony Davis to operate on the court.

If defenders decide to double-team James or Davis and leave the sharpshooting Smith open in the corner, he will make them pay. On the other hand, if they choose to stick with Smith, the All-Star duo is more than capable of finding other ways.

As James’ teammate, Smith shot 38.3 percent from the three-point line which would be the second-highest percentage of any Laker that attempts at least one per game this season. He is especially effective in catch-and-shoot situations, cashing in on 39.4 percent of his attempts during the 2017-18 season.

In comparison, Danny Green has been the team’s best catch-and-shoot player this season and he has only managed to convert on 38.2 percent of his attempts. Smith’s addition to the Lakers will provide them with more firepower from distance and will presumably help their 17th ranked three-point percentage league-wide.

One of the major concerns with Smith is his age as playing NBA basketball at 34 years old usually does not bode well for players not named LeBron James.

However, Smith should not have to handle as large a load as he once did for the Cavaliers. Armed with Green, Cook, Caldwell-Pope, Kuzma, Marcus Morris, and Dion Waiters, Smith will have more support from beyond the arc than he did before.

Realistically, head coach Frank Vogel should only be deploying Smith for about 15 minutes every game unless one of the other rotation players gets injured, giving him just enough time to hopefully make a positive impact on the game.

However, signing Smith does have its downsides as well.

For starters, Smith has not played NBA basketball since Nov. 2018 and it has been three years since he was a productive player on a championship contender.

Sure, the workout videos being posted on social media are encouraging, but things will get much more difficult when he is face-to-face with NBA All-Defensive Team members such as Kawhi Leonard and Paul George rather than NBA trainers.

Another issue with Smith lies in his tendency to get distracted by things off the court. If the NBA was resuming with each team in their home city, this would be a much larger problem due to all of the extracurricular activities Los Angeles has.

Lastly, Smith’s defense has drastically trailed off in recent seasons. His defensive win shares have dropped every season since he has come into the league with him toting a horrid 0.1 in his last season with the Cavaliers. On top of that, he has posted a negative defensive box plus/minus for 10 consecutive seasons now.

However, hope may lie in the fact that — due to the plethora of capable defenders — Smith will not be asked to guard anyone who specializes on the offensive end.

Vogel will likely choose to hide Smith on defense, limiting the amount of damage that he can do but also allowing him to save most of his energy for offense.

If Smith can stay focused and find his inner ‘JR Swish’ yet again, then he will serve as yet another valuable piece in the puzzle that is the 2019-20 Lakers roster.

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