The Cleveland Cavaliers are struggling. If you haven’t picked up on this, I assume it’s because you can’t bear watching. After last night’s 28-point bludgeoning at the hands of the Minnesota Timberwolves, I certainly wouldn’t blame you for that.
The problems Cleveland has been dealing with in its current slump have cropped up before here and there. However, there’s one the team has been dealing with for the bulk of the season.
Give or take a few solid spurts, J.R. Smith has been a ghost for the Cavs this season. It’s an issue which has been apparent for a few months now, and it’s become one the team can no longer ignore.
This isn’t the first time Smith has endured struggles on the court, as he experienced an uneven season last year, as well. A lengthy contract holdout dragged into the preseason, resulting in him not being in ideal conditioning at the beginning of the year. Additionally, complications with the birth of his daughter understandably weighed on him throughout the season.
However, one year later, Smith is still in a funk. Ironically, the problems he’s causing are the opposite of what anyone would expect from him.
Remember, when Smith was acquired by Cleveland, he brought with him a questionable reputation. There were concerns about his attitude, as well as his propensity for being an unapologetic shooter. However, he’s been a good soldier since day one.
That said, all you need to do is look at his stats from the current season to see where the issue is.
The following stats are currently at their lowest point since Smith joined the Cavs – points per game, field goal attempts per game and three-point attempts per game. These all help to indicate the underlying problem we’re seeing. Simply put, Smith isn’t playing like his normal self. He’s suddenly become gun-shy.
The Cavs, especially coach Tyronn Lue, have made no bones about giving him the green light when it comes to shooting. Throughout his time in Cleveland, Smith has been a far better player when given free rein to fire away from behind the arc.
Despite that, the 7.2 shots per game he’s averaging this year is his lowest since 2005.
To be fair, Smith was asked to step up on the defensive side of the court as well, a task he’s handled respectably. However, he’s always been a guy who plays better overall when his confidence is up. As you know, his confidence comes from his offense, which right now is essentially a non-factor.
Take last night for example. In a game where Smith shot 0-for-7 from the field, his plus/minus rating was an appalling -37. Basically, he was a turnstile.
What’s clear is this is hindering the Cavs. What’s not as apparent is what they can do about it.
Many fans are simply calling for a trade, yet this outcome seems doubtful on the surface.
Despite the fact he’s become a reliable player since joining the Cavs, the rest of the NBA is likely unwilling to get past the reputation he carried before coming to Cleveland. Many believe removing Smith from playing alongside LeBron James and sending him to a non-contending team may result in him reverting to his old ways. As a result, it’s tough to believe there will be a market for his services.
The easiest solution seems to be removing Smith from the starting lineup. This would (hopefully) allow him to clear his head and ease up the pressure that comes with being a starter.
This, unfortunately, is easier said than done.
Lue has become a bit stubborn when it comes to making significant lineup changes, as seen with his sending a productive Channing Frye back to no-man’s land once Tristan Thompson was reactivated. When asked if last night’s slaughter has him thinking about tinkering with the rotation, Cleveland’s coach essentially said no changes are coming.
Eventually, though, Lue is going to have to start considering adjustments. This is especially true if Smith’s struggles continue.
Again, Cleveland’s issues aren’t merely limited to the play of its starting shooting guard. However, when it comes to concerns with the Cavs, Smith’s play is certainly near the top of the list.
How they go about addressing this is anyone’s guess. That said, it’s clear just hoping Smith works himself out of this slump isn’t working.