It was a blow when Avery Bradley said he would not be joining the team at Disney in Orlando for the resumption of the NBA season. Everyone respected his decision to protect his family but it was an undoubted shock to the fans and the team. There was lots of talk about who might replace him in the roster – with some believing Caldwell-Pope could fill the gap. However, Vogel has made the decision to go with JR Smith – probably keen to give himself options and not rely on one player who has spent much of the season coming off the bench.

So, here we will take a look at the decision to choose JR Smith and what Vogel might have been thinking.

The life and Times of JR Smith

Before we get to the current context, let’s learn a little about the man and player that is JR Smith. He was born in 1985, meaning he has already a lot of experience under his belt, especially when we consider that he entered the NBA out of high school, drafted in 2004 by the New Orlean Hornets at the age of 18, soon to be 19. He was the 18th pick overall.

As a rookie, he was named Rookie of the Month three times during the year but he fell out of favour with the coach due to a poor work ethic. His time at the Denver Nuggets was a little more positive – likely because he had time to grow up. During the 2007-8 season, Smith was hitting career highs. His time with the Nuggets ended in 2011 when Smith was drawn to China, where a long stay would undoubtedly ruin his NBA career. 

Smith returned to the NBA with the Knicks in 2012 where he stayed until 2015. His most notable success was an astonishing 21 3-pointers in a single game – an NBA record. He moved to the Cleveland Cavaliers until 2019. He was waived by the Cavaliers after he became frustrated, say that the team didn’t seem to try to win. He felt instead that the Cavaliers were more interested in developing young players and refuse to pick up those from the lottery or free agents list. What you make of this is up to you – he is either a man in conflict with his franchise or he is a man intent on winning. 

Is it a risk?

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When you need just one replacement player for the restart of the NBA, did Vogel do right in selecting JR Smith as this player? 

There certainly didn’t seem to be any doubt in the mind of the head coach, who didn’t show any interest in any other solution. For Frank Vogel the deciding factor was straightforward – Smith had played alongside LeBron James at the Cleveland Cavaliers and had developed a strong understanding. When there are so few games left after such a long lay-off, the familiarity of one team member with another is a crucial factor.

As Vogel himself said, familiarity “was a factor” in his choice of JR Smith. Vogel believes that there will be a lot of similarities in the gameplay for the Lakers to what was drilled at the Cavaliers. This is not surprising, as both teams would have built their roster and tactics around the intelligence of LeBron James.

Rather than being an inspiring choice, Smith is a safe choice. He has had some stand out moments in his career and his stats read well. However, he is prone to some shocking gaffs and a little conflict away from the court. What do does do is bring an intuitive connection with James and a natural ability to fit into the team in a way that plays around the star. 

How will it work?

As the Lakers have a strong top of the roster, a lot of the game plans are simple. Therefore, with James and Davis around, Smith’s task is made easy as he just has to learn the ways that get this duo to perform at their best. 

Although Smith is primarily a shooter, he could work well from the bench. He has great rebound stats, so will offer strong rebound options. He will need to be supported with a defensive-minded guard, such as Alex Caruso, but would make a strong third shooting option on the court. At 35, Smith might not offer youth on the court, but he does come with experience. This is crucial, as he will have a short time to get up to speed and slot into his place in the plan.

However, the bottom line, in such a situation as this is about chemistry. Bringing in a new player at such a crucial point in the season requires someone who will slot right in. He knows how a LeBron led team will work and this makes Smith the best choice. He might come with all sorts of baggage but it makes complete sense. He will have less to learn and so any deficit in his abilities will be countered.