He moves silently. Effortlessly. He wears a smile so wide that it is challenged by almost nothing, save for the width of his hat. He is standing, yet his feet are not on the ground. He is moving through the halls, yet his limbs remain still, save for a few handshakes, back pats, and knowing nods, none of which succeed in breaking his quick but non-existent stride. He is J.R. Smith, a hover boarding, pipe offering, shot taking savant. Wandering the countryside in search of contested shots. After all, the open shots, much like walking, are just too boring.
The story of J.R. Smith's time in Cleveland will probably be struggling through the finals, or getting suspended against the Celtics. "J.R. being J.R.! You knew it would happen!" came the cries, almost elatedly. While those events happened, it wouldn't be fair to focus on that and not the stellar play on both ends that helped get the Cavs to those places to begin with.
It wasn't long after Smith arrived that he spoke the immortal words "When in doubt, shoot". The words fit, Smith is a gunner, a shot happy fellow that has seemingly never seen a shot he didn't think he could make. Long a sidekick to Carmelo Anthony, Smith arrived in Cleveland almost as an afterthought, in both the trade that got him here, and the teams offense. The prize was Iman Shumpert, a young defender with a reputation that had outpaced some of his actual defensive efforts. Smith was a throw in, the cost paid for getting Shumpert for nothing more than three minimum salary players. Instead the Cavs received the player they sorely needed. The carefree gunner, either providing space or punishing those who didn't or couldn't respect him standing on the other side of the play.
Often open, and always ready, Smith bombed away from beyond the three point line. Since January 7, when Smith arrived, only two players took and made more threes than he did: Golden State's Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. For all the faults that brought him to Cleveland, and most likely by accident on the part of the Cavs front office, they landed the premier outside threat that they had been searching for. With little cause to step inside of the arc, seven of Smith's 11 shots per game were from deep. The silly turn arounds and step backs would rear their heads, but far less often than previous stops.
To visualize the progress, here is a look at Smith's 24 games with the Knicks:
Now contrast that with his 46 games in Cleveland:
In almost every 10-22 foot shot range, Smith had as many attempts in 20 less games in New York than he did in Cleveland. Be it LeBron James, David Blatt, or just not needing to do anything other than shoot, something clicked. Not having to think or be relied upon to make a play made it easy to do what he always wanted to do in the first place: shoot.
Smith decline to exercise his player option for this upcoming season, and it will be interesting to see how the Cavs pursue him. He was a premier shooter, a scratch defender, and a seemingly welcome source of laughter in what become a surprisingly close-knit locker room in the second half of the season. You would think it's a no brainer to bring him back, especially after he dominated the Hawks in the Eastern Conference Finals. This is Smith though, and even though his time in Cleveland was 95 percent great, and what we should be remembering, you do need to worry about that other five. For their part, the Cavs seem to be in the same boat, saying they would bring him back "If the situation makes sense".
Hopefully there is a middle ground, and a fair deal to get Smith back in the fold can be reached. It would be a shame to see him walk away from something that worked so well for everyone involved.
But walking isn't really his style.