Los Angeles Lakers head coach Frank Vogel wasted no time getting all the new faces involved throughout the first two scrimmages at Walt Disney World.
Among them was JR Smith, who made his return following a prolonged hiatus from the NBA that stretched back to 2018. He managed to make his presence felt in the loss against the Dallas Mavericks with 6 points, 2 assists and 1 steal.
Smith again 6 points in a scrimmage game against the Orlando Magic, though shot only 1-for-5 from the field. He added 3 rebounds and had 1 assist in the Lakers’ win, receiving minutes in the first quarter.
Smith’s experience as a key role player alongside LeBron James during their days with the Cleveland Cavaliers made him an ideal fit to add to the rotation. Vogel even expressed high praise about what Smith and Dion Waiters are bringing to a locker room that has already established a strong culture.
It is no secret that Smith is more than capable of creating his own offense when given the opportunity. Regardless, he said during an appearance on Spectrum Sportsnet that his primary focus is on the defensive end of the court:
“Same as always. Bring the energy, play defense as hard as I can, get to my spots, shoot when I’m open, create for my teammates. If I’ve got two (defenders) in front of me, somebody’s open. But more than anything, I’m just trying to get the defensive things down because that’s how I’ll stay on the court. If I play defense they’ll keep me on the court longer, so that’s my main focus.”
It is encouraging to see that Smith has embraced the challenge of taking on an integral role on both ends of the floor. Although the veteran may be known as a trigger-happy shooter on offense, his contributions on defense could dictate how much he sees the floor during their time in the NBA bubble.
One of the biggest questions since Avery Bradley’s decision to opt out of the season restart has been on which player will be tasked with taking on his defensive responsibilities on the perimeter.
Although Danny Green and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are prepared to take over these duties in the starting lineup, the Lakers will need to take full advantage of the time before playoffs to establish their new rotation.
The Lakers are hoping Smith’s arrival can help provide some quality depth in the backcourt amid the losses of Bradley and Rajon Rondo. While Alex Caruso’s absence opened up more minutes for the new additions, it will be interesting to see how Vogel goes about mixing up the backcourt moving forward.
While Smith is focused on providing the Lakers with strong defense on an individual level, there is a collective emphasis being put on doing so in transition.
“I feel like our guys are working really hard at it and I feel like for the most part this season we’ve tried to be better at it,” Vogel said. “I do think because of our size and how good we are defensively in the half court, we’ve faced teams that have more of an intent to run against us than maybe other teams. We know that’s the way teams are going to attack us.”
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