As 22 out of the 30 teams prepare for the 2019-20 NBA season restart at Disney World in Orlando, FL next month, the expanded 17-man rosters are being finalized.
Multiple players have decided to stay home barring the risk of contracting the coronavirus (COVID-19) in the ‘bubble.’ One of these players is Avery Bradley, who opted out of joining the Los Angeles Lakers in Orlando and cited concerns regarding his oldest son’s struggles to recover from respiratory illnesses.
“As committed to my Lakers teammates and the organization as I am, I ultimately play basketball for my family,” Avery Bradley said to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN recently on June 23. “And so, at a time like this, I can’t imagine making any decision that might put my family’s health and well-being at even the slightest risk.”
This opened up a roster spot for the Lakers to fill and they signed LeBron James’ friend and 2018 NBA Finals hero (for Golden State Warriors fans): JR Smith.
The 34-year-old Smith has not played in an NBA game since Dec. 2018, but this did not phase the Lakers. Smith reportedly worked out with them before they signed Dion Waiters, leading to the Lakers being familiar and comfortable with him.
Aside from the Game 1 blunder, Smith had been an excellent role player alongside James as he offers both lights-out shooting and championship experience.
According to StatMuse, Smith has an impressive NBA Finals history:
– 4th in all-time threes in Finals
– 3rd in most threes in a Finals game (tied)
– 3rd highest 3P% in Finals (min 150 3PA)
JR is back. pic.twitter.com/yvHYgsPsMS
— StatMuse (@statmuse) June 29, 2020
These statistics above show Smith could be extremely beneficial to the team’s championship run if he is in shape as he can provide a lot of firepower.
Most importantly, Smith knows what it takes to win a championship alongside James. He was important in the 2016 Finals run and fits in seamlessly with the bench. Smith averaged 11.5 points (43.6 percent from the three-point line) during the first three rounds and 10.6 points (35.6 percent) against the Warriors.
Smith is clearly a direct offensive upgrade from Bradley, who averaged 8.6 points (36.4 percent from the three-point line) in 49 appearances for the Lakers. Smith has range from anywhere on the court, can create offense on his own through isolations or pick-and-rolls, and brings much-needed energy and toughness.
However, what Smith lacks that Bradley’s play oozed is a strong defensive presence. The Lakers had a ball hawk in Bradley who put immense pressure on opposing guards (just ask Patrick Beverley). He is a solid ball-handler and spot-up shooter, but his defense is what made the Lakers the best team in the West.
Nevertheless, there are not many guards who could replicate Bradley’s defense.
Could Iman Shumpert have been another option as Bradley’s replacement for the Lakers? Sure, but Shumpert’s offensive production does not match what Smith can hopefully bring. He simply does not have the shot-creating/making or offensive skills of Smith, which is what the Lakers desperately need off the bench.
This signing also takes immense pressure off Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Smith’s contribution puts less pressure on Caldwell-Pope to find ways to create. It leaves him in a role similar to Bradley’s: hounding opposing guards and splashing threes.
With Smith coming off the bench alongside Dion Waiters, it could either provide a great spark or inconsistent play. This is a high risk, high reward situation, but both could be extremely important alongside the ‘GOAT’ Alex Caruso and Kyle Kuzma.
It is safe to say the Smith signing was important for another championship run. The Lakers were already poised for No. 17, but this rolls out the red carpet and stocks up the Hennessey for a celebration in Mickey’s town in mid-October.
It is a match made in NBA Twitter heaven: the return of its most famous meme.