The 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers are officially ready to defend their NBA Title.
It looked bleak for a while, but the Cavs front office finally made the right move by resigning starting shooting guard J.R. Smith to a four year/$57 Million deal.
Smith, who coming into Cleveland had a reputation as a selfish three point shooter who couldn’t play defense and was a cancer in the locker room. Well, since the midway point of the 2015 season, when he arrived in Cleveland, Smith has shattered all of those rumors. With the additions of Smith, Iman Shumpert, and Timofey Mosgov, the Cavaliers went on a run in the second half of that 2015 season, through the Eastern Conference Playoffs and onto the NBA Finals. Although short handed with the injuries to Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, the Cavs still managed to win two games in their finals series against eventual champion the Golden State Warriors.
Despite the Finals loss, 2016 would prove to be the Cavs year to uplift the city of Cleveland, in large part due to the play and much improved maturity of Smith.
Stats wise, during the regular season, Smith was on almost on par with his career averages, dropping 12.4 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game. These are stellar numbers, but the numbers aren’t what defined Smith this past season, it was how he got those numbers.
Smith set a Cavs franchise record by hitting 204 threes last season which was good for seventh in the NBA. What this did for a Cavs team that features two of the best playmakers in the game with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving is it opened up the floor for them to operate and create opportunities for everybody. Smith’s main job coming into Cleveland was to shoot and make threes just for this reason and that’s what he did.
What surprised most experts this past season was the complete game that he showed on both sides of the floor that hadn’t been seen from him in his career. This was especially evident in the NBA playoffs and most importantly in the Finals rematch against the Warriors.
Smith did his main job by leading the Cavs with 16 three pointers made in the Finals. The other aspects of the game that he was able to affect, however, played a huge role in why the Cavs won the series and came from from 3-1 down.
In Game Five, Smith only had 10 points, but he was a plus 11 during the game which means that while Smith was on the floor, the Cavs outscored the Warriors by 11 points. This is due to the fact that he stepped it up defensively guarding one of the best shooters in the history of the league in Klay Thompson and also found himself in great defensive help position throughout the series, stoping deep penetration by Warriors’ guards and effectively closing out on shooters. Game Six was an even better performance for Smith who scored 14 points and knocked down four three pointers. Most importantly, his overall game was having a profound effect on his team as he jumped from a plus 11 in Game Five to a plus 22 in Game 6. In the deciding Game 7, Smith scored 12 points and recorded a plus seven while he was on the floor, but in the most important game of the season, Klay Thompson only had 14 points on two of ten shooting threes.
His combination of shooting and much, much improved defense as well as his growth and maturity as a person is a big reason why the Cavs enter this season as the defending champs and why it was so important for them to resign J.R.
Them giving him a new contract shows loyalty and reciprocates the loyalty, hard work and willingness to change for the better that he has shown the Cavs for the one and one half seasons he’s been with them. LeBron has been active in expressing Smith’s evolution and the importance he has on this team.
Via The Associated Press: “Negotiations are always two-sides, but J.R. did his part,” James said Friday following practice. “He showed up every day. … Became a two-way player, a model citizen in Cleveland and he’s a fan favourite, obviously we all know that. All of the sudden now he’s a season ticket holder at the Indians games.”
So bravo to the Cleveland Cavaliers front office for making the right choice, although a much delayed choice. Smith has ingratiated himself with this team and the city of Cleveland. He is a big reason as to why the Cavs chemistry is at an all time high right now. He deserved this contract extension and now, the Cavs are ready to defend their title because of it.
Shoutout to you, J.R. Smith.
Do you think J.R. Smith deserved this contract extension? Let’s talk about it here or find me on Twitter @Phenombc3.