Late on Tuesday night, news came out that Avery Bradley, citing familial reasons, would be bypassing the proposed Orlando bubble for the NBA’s season resumption, leaving the Los Angeles Lakers without one of their main starters from the current campaign.
Bradley started 44 out of 49 games in 2019-20, averaging 8.6 points and 2.3 rebounds while hitting 36.4 percent of his 3.5 nightly three-point attempts, so his loss, while not insurmountable for Los Angeles, will surely be felt by the team nonetheless.
In his stead, one of the top reported candidates to take his place is former LeBron James teammate and 2016 NBA champion JR Smith, who was out of the league this season and last played in 11 games in 2018-19 for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
What would the Lakers be gaining and losing if they do wind up replacing Bradley with Smith? Let’s break it down below.
Bradley has been well-known throughout his career as one of the best ball-stopping defensive guards in basketball, using his quick feet and a strong base to make getting by him a hellacious process for opponents on most possessions.
And although the analytics might not back that up, one merely needs to watch him defend to see how solid Bradley is on that end of the floor.
Smith, on the other hand, has never been much of a defender, choosing to focus his energy on getting the ball through the hoop rather than stopping opponents from doing so.
Lest we forget, the streaky 2-guard once had one of the greatest defensive gaffes in recent league history when he chose to stop defending on a play so he could say hello to Jason Terry, who… wasn’t checked into the game at the time.
GAIN: CHAMPIONSHIP EXPERIENCE
Smith was a key starter for the title-winning 2015-16 Cavaliers team that pulled off one of the biggest championship upsets ever by taking down the Golden State Warriors in seven games. He came up big for Cleveland over the final five outings of that series, too, putting up 13.2 points and hitting nearly 37 percent of his threes in those contests.
On top of that, Smith has 130 games worth of playoff experience under his belt, so he knows all about postseason pressure and intensity.
Bradley, on the other hand, has only taken part in 39 playoff games over the course of his career, only getting as far as the conference finals once.
LOSS: POTENTIAL LOCKER-ROOM STABILITY
Bradley is one of the most well-respected players in the NBA, a consummate pro and someone who is a trusted voice in the locker room.
Smith, meanwhile, once famously threw a bowl of soup at his then-assistant coach Damon Jones and proceeded not to talk to him for another three months after that, until that season’s culmination. (Smith, to his credit, did apologize.)
GAIN: OUTSIDE SHOOTING
Replacing Bradley with Smith would actually give the Lakers’ three-point shooting a boost, as Smith has been a better outside marksman than Bradley over both of their careers.
Despite being known for his streakiness, Smith is a career 37.3 percent three-point shooter while Bradley has made 36.4 percent of the three-pointers he’s taken in his career.
What’s more, over his three full seasons playing alongside LeBron James, Smith shot 38 percent from beyond the arc, including a campaign in 2015-16 where he made 40 percent of his outside opportunities, the second-best mark in his NBA career. Bradley, on the other hand, during his one full season as James’ teammate, shot 36.4 percent from three, the same mark as his career rate.
LOSS: AN IN-FORM STARTER
Although Bradley has missed time this season and in years prior due to injury, he has been a starter for Los Angeles since around Christmas – and hadn’t missed a game since then.
There’s no doubt Bradley was in great form prior to the halt of play, which is hard to gain when you’re not signed to a team.
Smith, after being banished by the Cavs all the way back in November of 2018, hasn’t participated in full team action in quite a long time, so it could take him a while to regain the form he had when he was practicing or playing games daily.
Considering every team will only get eight regular-season games to round into shape, that might not be enough time for Smith to get back in form ahead of the playoffs.
You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter: @FrankUrbina_.