2016 NBA champion JR Smith is not in the mix for the Cleveland Cavaliers, but he may have at least one potential suitor who’s currently attempting a title run.
Smith, 33, has not played since November 19 and he appeared on the court just 11 times for the Cavaliers this season. There are fiscal complications stalling a buyout negotiation, though if those are somehow resolved, the exiled player could soon have a new home.
Here is what Joe Vardon reported on Thursday morning (via The Athletic):
“To be eligible to play in the playoffs, players getting buyouts from their current teams must accept them by March 1. The Milwaukee Bucks have interest in JR Smith, sources said, though Smith and the Cavs are not close on a buyout. There is very little incentive for Cleveland to buy him out, and at this stage in his life, NBA money is important to Smith.”
If he were picked up by the Bucks, he would be reunited with fellow veteran guard George Hill. The two played together for 548 minutes last season and when they were in the lineup at the same time, per NBA Wowy, the Cavaliers outscored opponents by 8.7 points per 100 possessions.
Smith has long been a proficient shooter from long range, which would be helpful to the Bucks. They have an advantage from downtown, as we’ve covered here, because Giannis Antetokounmpo commands so much attention from defenders near the basket that many of his teammates are left open for threes.
This is similar to the role that Smith’s former teammate LeBron James played for the Cavaliers when he was a more lethal threat near the rim. The Bucks have realized that surrounding Antetokounmpo with players who can make their catch-and-shoot attempts is a recipe for greatness.
Only four teams in the NBA have taken more catch-and-shoot attempts than Milwaukee so far this season. Their roster is littered with above average spot-up shooters including Brook Lopez, Malcolm Brogdon, Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe and Tony Snell. But another option off the bench when others need rest would be especially imperative in the postseason.
This has always been a primary scoring option for Smith, who ranked Top 5 in total points off catch-and-shoot plays during the 2015-16 season. Among the 110 players who had at least 170 attempts that year, only three (Stephen Curry, JJ Redick and Kyle Lowry) were more efficient.
With the same qualifications, Smith ranked Top 20 in points per possession on catch-and-shoots the season before as well. He also made appearances in the Top 5 among high-volume catch-and-shoot players during his final year with the New York Knicks in 2013-14 as well as his last year on the Denver Nuggets in 2010-11.
As recently as last season, the sharpshooter was absolutely lethal on corner three-pointers. Many remember his clock management blunder during the 2018 NBA Finals, but Smith actually shot 19-for-34 (55.9 percent) from the corner in his postseason appearances in June 2018.
He was 36-of-66 (54.5 percent) specifically from the left corner during the regular season, trailing only Trevor Ariza and Joe Ingles in total makes. Meanwhile, only Khris Middleton and Taurean Prince (minimum: 40 FGA) had a better field goal percentage from this zone.
In 2015-16, Smith also ranked Top 15 in both total three-pointers (149) and three-point percentage (minimum: 200 FGA) above the arc. In other words, Smith was thriving from more than just one hot spot. If he can return to this form, the former Sixth Man of the Year could be a valuable addition for Milwaukee.
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