So far, nothing has happened this season to dissuade us from the notion that the Cavaliers and Warriors were on a collision course for a third straight NBA Finals rematch. Expectations may have to be recalibrated, however, now that J.R. Smith has gone down with a broken thumb.
J.R. will likely be out a month or two at least, a long enough period for questions to arise about whether the Cavs need to make a trade to shore up that spot in the rotation. However, though Smith may have a big personality and and outsized portion of the headlines in Cleveland, he’s been averaging less than nine points per game this year.
Smith’s defense and threat of outside shooting are important components to the team – as is the spacing he provides – but now that Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are firing on all cylinders beside LeBron, he’s not as crucial a source of offense as he was the past two seasons.
Iman Shumpert figures to slide into the starting lineup to replace Smith, though he has a history of injuries himself. When he goes down, then the Cavs might have to look outside the organization for answers, lest they be left with DeAndre Liggins and Jordan McRae at the two spot. But until then, Shumpert should be a capable replacement, since he was already having one of the best seasons of his career.
Always regarded as a solid defender, Shump’s improved his outside shooting to nearly 42 percent, a whopping 12 percentage points over last season. Such a big increase of course makes one wonder about regression, but he’s actually shooting better from three than J.R. so far this season.
No one is claiming the Cavs are better off while Smith is hurt, but it also bears repeating that he’s the fourth offensive option on a team that is clearly the class of its conference. A reasonable timeframe for his return would give him plenty of time to round back into form for the postseason, and until then, Cleveland is only waiting around anyway. Put the alarms down. For now, anyway.
In the meantime, at least J.R. will have some extra time to do some holiday shopping for shirts: