J.R. Smith Still Has A Place In The NBA

With 4.7 seconds left in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, George Hill had an opportunity to give the Cleveland Cavaliers the lead over the Golden State Warriors with two free throws after getting fouled by Klay Thompson. Hill made the first free throw, tying the game at 107-107. His second free throw hit the front of the rim, but ended up in the hands of his teammate, J.R. Smith.

Then, this happened.

Smith appeared in 14 games for the Cavaliers after this, including 11 regular season games last season, before taking an extended absence from the team in Nov. 2018. The Cavaliers officially waived Smith in July after failing to negotiate a deal they liked for him on draft night, even though they were offered a first-round pick for his services, according to Chris Fedor of cleveland.com.

Since then, Smith has been at home, mastering the art of camping in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and waiting for his next shot to contribute to an NBA team. The question is: Why hasn’t he gotten that call already? Smith has arguably been the best available free agent since the regular season started. Yes, that list includes Carmelo Anthony, who signed a non-guaranteed contract with the Portland Trail Blazers last week.

In the 80 games Smith played for the Cavaliers in the 2017-18 season, he averaged 8.3 point per game on 40.3 percent shooting from the field, including 37.5 percent from three-point range on 4.3 attempts from deep per game. On the surface, those stats aren’t all that impressive, but there are still a few things he’s shown he can still do at a high level, particularly as a shooter.

During the 2017-18 season, Smith converted an impressive 54.5 percent of the 66 right corner threes, the second-highest percentage of anyone that attempted at least 50 of those shots that season, according to NBA.com. He also made 43.3 percent of the 60 shots he attempted from the left corner, which ranked in the top-10. Of the nine other players in the top-10, Smith is the only one that’s still a free agent.

Obviously basketball is much more than shooting corner threes, but it’s something teams value. If it wasn’t, a guy like Kyle Korver — who the Milwaukee Bucks opted to sign instead of Smith — wouldn’t have a job in the NBA at 38 years old. That’s not all Smith offers offensively, either.

Smith, 34, might not be as fast or as bouncy as he used to be, but he can still put the ball on the floor and get past his defender. He also has a few go-to shots that he makes at an efficient rate, like most veteran shooters do. For example, he made an astounding 55.1 percent of his step back jumpers, his second-most attempted shot type during the 2017-18 season, according to NBA.com. Defensively, Smith has high good games and his bad ones. When he’s locked in, he’s always been a willing and active defender, assuming he’s still the same player he was two years. That list bit is going to be important to Smith playing in the NBA again.

In order to get another look from an NBA team, Smith not only has to show he’s the same player or better than he was almost two years ago. For as talented as Smith may be, he has a reputation for being mistake-prone, something that has existed long before his famous Finals fiasco. But despite that, Smith is a guy who has value, and as long as he’s still able to hit shots, he’ll have a place in this league.

Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony found their way back into the NBA after it seemed like it was impossible for them to get out of their won way. With a free agent pool that doesn’t have a ton of big names, Smith seems like a guy who is primed to get the next call from a team that could use his skill set.