J.R. Smith is known for a lot of things. At times he has been a headcase. At others he is a beloved human being who has done great things for children with disabilities. Some consider J.R. to be nothing more than a chucker, and when you look at his three-point shooting, it’s hard to argue. But at other times, though, Smith is a well-rounded player who can hurt a team in multiple ways. The latter is more at point with this author’s view. In fact, J.R. Smith is one of the best shooting guards in the modern NBA.
Following Smith’s incredible performance in the second playoff game against Atlanta the other night, I had a conversation with Sports: by Stats podcast guru Jove Tse, and we came to a similar conclusion. J.R. is a gifted three-point shooter, however, he is also a very well-rounded offensive player.
Let’s begin by looking at simple shooting numbers. For example, when you adjust the value of three-point shots in general field goal percentage, J.R. is the tenth best amongst starting guards that have had a shot attempts in at least forty-two games. And further, he ranks sixth amongst starting shooting guards. Moreover, he had a 40% three-point percentage and 54.2% true shooting percentage in the regular season. Furthermore, Smith has 52.9% three-point percentage and a 70.9% true shooting percentage in the playoffs.
And, to what most people think J.R. excels at, he is a dominant catch-and-shoot player. During the playoffs, his catch-and-shoot eFG% is 82.5%, highest amongst players with at least four attempts per game. Part of this has to do with his lightning fast shooting motion. See below:
As you can see from this clip, J.R.’s release speed allows him to see the basket before the contester can effectively contest the shot. This is why he has shot 72.3% on contested shots during the playoffs. But, with all of that said, we already know that J.R. is a good shooter. Considering he shoots 66% of all shots on catch-and-shoot attempts, though, What else does he do well?
One area where Smith does not get enough credit is driving the basketball. He averaged about 1.5 drives per game for the Cavaliers. On these drives, he shoots 46% and has an assist percentage over 8%. This means J.R. ranks at 85th out of 186 in FG% with at least one drive per game and an average of 20 mpg. Moreover, using those same metrics, he ranks 69th out of 186 in assist percentage. Those numbers are both exclusively better than Klay Thompson. Now, obviously Klay Thompson is the better player. But the fact is J.R. can be an effective player in ways outside of three-point shooting.
Additionally, on defense, J.R. is about average, as his opponents shoot .5% better than normal when he is guarding them. However, this does not take Smith’s length or role in the Cavs’ defense into consideration. Essentially, J.R.’s role is not to alter shots but to get steals and direct his opponent into defensive traffic. For example, while on the court, J.R. was responsible for 25% of all of the Cavs’ steals this season. Moreover in the playoffs, for Cavaliers that play at least twenty minutes per game, Smith has the second best defensive rating behind only LeBron James. These stats both speak to J.R.’s crucial role in Cleveland’s defense.
Before comparing data of modern NBA shooting guards, I thought J.R. was absolutely behind Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler, James Harden, CJ McCollum, Dwyane Wade, DeMar DeRozan, and Gordon Hayward. Then, there are potential players that are better than J.R. depending on your view of what makes a top-ten player, these include: JJ Redick, Kyle Korver, Andrew Wiggins, Jordan Clarkson, Bradley Beal, and Devin Booker. Ultimately, I had J.R. Smith tied with JJ Redick and Kyle Korver for eighth best shooting guard. Wiggins, Clarkson, and Beal are all good players, but much of what they bring is solely potential, whereas Smith and Korver have proven their worth. Below is a picture comparing all of the aforementioned stats for the above players:
Here is the thing: Not only is J.R. Smith a dominant shooting guard, but in any specific stat, he is top-five. Consequently, the numbers suggest that Smith is truly a top-seven shooting guard, at worst. One issue with the stats, though, is that J.R. is a fourth option (sometimes third) playing with LeBron James on the Cavs. Therefore it is not an exact comparison. Nonetheless, these numbers prove that J.R. is absolutely a top-ten shooting guard in the NBA.