The Cleveland Cavaliers are hoping their bevy of trade deadline-day deals will get their season turned around and headed toward a fourth straight NBA Finals appearance. While some of the players dealt last week struggled to fit into the Cavs framework, one player has remained in the good graces of coach Tyronn Lue despite his season-long struggles.
Shooting guard J.R. Smith remains the Cavs’ starter at that position despite his struggles in scoring and shooting all season long. To Lue, the role Smith played in the Cavs’ run to the 2016 Finals — and Smith’s performance in Game 7 of that series — has made it tough to pull the plug on Smith as a starter. Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com has more:
“If it wasn’t for JR in ’16 making those eight straight points coming out in the third quarter, we don’t win the championship,” Lue said after practice Monday. “People saying quit on JR, give up on JR, it’s not right.”
Fans and media were questioning Lue’s commitment to Smith for much of this season while he struggled to shoot or defend. He’s averaging 8.3 points and shooting .367 from 3-point range, and his defensive rating is a career-worst 112.7.
Had Smith not been playing much better lately, all those numbers would be worse. He’s averaging 13.2 points and shooting .515 from 3-point range over his last five games.
“Sometimes your shot is going to come and go, that’s just part of the game,” Lue said. “For the most part, his effort is there every night. That’s why I wanted to stick with JR and I don’t want to lose JR. Make sure keep him in good spirits, going in the right direction. He’s big for us. When he’s making shots, when he’s being aggressive, our team is a whole different team.”
Smith is still here, and for the first time since he arrived he’s playing with a point guard (George Hill) who is a strong defender — so Smith’s primary role won’t be fighting through pick-and-rolls to take the burden off of, say Kyrie Irving.
“Fortunate we have stability to where we play a team like OKC coming up where I can focus on my position, and who’s at my position, as opposed to switching over and guarding the 1s, the 2s, the 3s,” Smith said. “Obviously we got a helluva point guard in George who can guard 1, 2 and 3. It’s not really I’ve got to switch out of position to guard this guy, he likes to post up. I really get to guard the 2s.”
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