What does J.R. Smith need to do to earn crunch time minutes?

The Los Angeles Lakers confirmed the signing of J.R. Smith on Wednesday as a replacement for Avery Bradley, who opted out of the Orlando bubble last week.

Smith has been linked to the Lakers since departing the Cleveland Cavaliers, and could play significant minutes as LeBron James and co. pursue the most bizarre of NBA championships.

Bradley’s decision to opt out wasn’t a surprising one considering his comments over the last few weeks, but it left the Lakers in a tricky spot. He’s been starting in the backcourt all season long, guarding opposing point guards and shooting a serviceable percentage of his threes. Teams have been forced to take him seriously on the perimeter, opening space for LeBron and Anthony Davis.

Smith hasn’t played an NBA game since 2018. He was involved in one of the most infamous moments in Finals history with James. This signing is more dice roll than blockbuster, but given the limited options out there for the Lakers after Bradley decided to sit out, it seems like a decent pickup.

Like a lot of shooters, Smith can get red-hot. A purple patch in a playoff game could swing a series. He is enough of a threat from deep to make opposing perimeter players chase him.

Smith will likely be on trial through eight seeding games. He needs to prove he’s still a useful NBA player before being thrown into the playoffs, and that means competing with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Alex Caruso for Bradley’s minutes.

With Danny Green locked into one of the wing spots, Smith gives the Lakers the option to run a LeBron-Davis-Green-Smith-McGee/Howard line-up. That line-up is not only huge, it has the spacing from Green and Smith, two players who can hit catch-and-shoot jumpers and run off screens.

The test of Smith’s usefulness to the Lakers will be at the other end, however. Smith has been an inconsistent defender. At times he fits the three-and-D bill, others he is absent-minded, losing his man and getting blown by. If he’s something like the first one, he could quickly accumulate major minutes on a Laker team that is yet to settle on a crunch time line-up.


Perhaps most of all with Smith, it’s the experience he brings. McGee, LeBron and Green have been deep into the playoffs. Davis has not. Caldwell-Pope and Caruso haven’t. Kyle Kuzma is a newbie to postseason basketball.

Smith’s Lakers spell could end in any number of ways. He could be a non-factor. Reunited with LeBron, though, and in this unique NBA season, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him become a vital component in a deep run.

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About Sam Cox 457 Articles
Sam is a widely published freelance writer, covering basketball, baseball and a range of other sports. He's still trying to decide if he prefers a rundown shot block or a smooth double play.

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