J.R. Smith’s season hasn’t been what anyone envisioned, and he even contemplated having Tyronn Lue bench him during his struggles.
J.R. Smith was one of the guys not shipped off on last Thursday’s trade deadline, and he was only a candidate because he hadn’t been able to find any rhythm from deep. Through 54 games this season, Smith’s banging home triples at a clip of 36.7 percent, which is higher than what he finished with last year. There wasn’t always optimism, however.
The Cleveland Cavaliers played 22 games from Oct. 17 to Nov. 30, and Smith shot just 32.0 percent from downtown in those contests. He was initially the backup to Dwyane Wade, but that lasted about as long as Nikola Vucevic’s MVP candidacy. In the midst of his struggles, Smith had thought about approaching head coach Tyronn Lue and coercing him into a lineup change.
“There were times when I wanted to go to [Lue] and be like, ‘Listen, man, I’m not playing well. Why not take me out?'” said Smith, per ESPN’s Dave McMenamin. “Fortunately, I didn’t and just stuck with it. I’ve known T-Lue since my rookie year. Our relationship is based on communication — how he communicates with me, how I communicate with him. He’s been really consistent at that.”
Smith has bounced back and is beginning to look like his old self. In December, he connected on 26-of-60 (43.3 percent) threes before sliding back down to 31.7 percent in January. The caveat with that is Cleveland, as a team, played atrocious basketball.
The Cavaliers have played five games in February and will face the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday night. J.R. has buried 17 of his 33 attempts from downtown this month, and that includes six made triples against the Minnesota Timberwolves last Wednesday.
For the Cleveland Cavaliers to sail smoothly into the NBA Finals, J.R. Smith has to be accurate from downtown. LeBron James is still LeBron James, and Kevin Love will be back for the playoffs, but Smith can still be a handful on the perimeter when he’s hitting shots with the highest degree of difficulty.
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