Despite their success during the 2019-20 NBA season, the Los Angeles Lakers continue to tinker with the roster in hopes of maximizing their chances of winning the 2020 NBA Finals.
There are reports the Lakers would still like to bring in more shooting before the 2020 NBA playoffs and with the team recently working out JR Smith, the possibility of him being signed seems like a real possibility. However, would it be the right move?
The team’s struggles from the three-point line are well documented. They rank just 22nd in the NBA in three-pointers made per game (11.1), and 18th in three-point percentage (35.4 percent). And there are only three players on the Lakers shooting higher than 35 percent from that range on at least three attempts per game: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (39.6 percent), Danny Green (37.6 percent), and Avery Bradley (37.0 percent).
Smith would immediately be one of the best shooters on the team as a career 37.3 percent shooter from deep. He hit 37.5 percent in his most recent full season and has shot at least 35 percent in each of his last six full seasons in the league. With LeBron James and Anthony Davis drawing so much attention, the Lakers must have players able to knock down open threes and Smith has proven time and again that he can do that.
He has also done so on the biggest stage the league has to offer. During the 2016 playoffs, Smith shot 43 percent from deep on over seven attempts in 21 games, helping the Cleveland Cavaliers win the NBA championship. Obviously the All-Star player of that team was James, so Smith knows how to play off him and will not be intimidated by the big stage.
Smith has also shown himself to be a capable defender when he is engaged. While he will never be a lockdown perimeter defender (especially in his 16th season), he does represent a bigger body the team could use on some of the wings they will face in the playoffs.
However, the concerns for Smith are very real.
Smith has not played in the NBA since Nov. 2018, so questions about his conditioning going into a playoff run will come. Whether he can keep up his level of play this late into his career is also a concern. Most players (James excluded) start to fall off at this stage of their careers. It is usually said that shooting is the last thing to go for a great player, but one has to wonder if Smith can keep shooting at that high of a level.
There will also be questions about chemistry and fit with this Lakers team. Smith has always been an outspoken player and has had some off-court issues as well including once throwing soup at a Cavaliers assistant coach in 2018. The Lakers have excellent chemistry and cannot afford to affect that in any major way, especially as Smith being a major part of the rotation is not guaranteed. They would need to be sure he does not cause issues should he not get his desired minutes.
That also brings up the question of who the team would release to sign Smith if they chose to. The likely options would seem to be Quinn Cook or Jared Dudley. While both players are at the bottom of the rotation, they are absolutely beloved in the locker room. Losing either could have a massive effect to team chemistry.
If the Lakers truly believe Smith can be a massive upgrade and help the team with his shooting, he could be worth the gamble, but hurting the locker room dynamic and chemistry of this team for someone who is a borderline rotation player could be a mistake.