• Mamadou Tall

The Enigmatic Career of J.R. Smith


(Original Photo Credit: Aaron Josefczyk/ NY Daily News)

This year’s NBA season is off to a great start and it seems like things are only going to get better. With all the new faces emerging and a lot of old faces continuing their reigns in new places, there is one face that has disappeared from the league. J.R. Smith.


The 34-year-old shooting guard last stepped foot onto an NBA court on Nov. 19, 2018, as a Cleveland Cavalier. His last game in the NBA consisted of him playing a measly six minutes and only scoring two points on 1-4 shooting. That same season he got waived by the Cavaliers.


Smith’s career has been one of the most enigmatic in recent memory. His career has been filled with moments that made those watching respect and appreciate his talent on the court. While on the other hand, he had moments that had us all scratching our heads and wondering what in the world was he doing. Minus all the antics and off the court troubles that have followed Smith’s career he has managed to carve out a unique role for himself on all of the teams he played for.


So why isn’t on an NBA roster? Is his time up in the league? Is the risk much higher than the reward that he presents? The way to get to the bottom of these questions is to follow his career from the very start.


J.R. Smith started making a name for himself in high school at Saint Benedict’s Preparatory School in Newark, New Jersey. During his time at St. Benedict’s he was named a McDonald's All American and was without a doubt one of the best high schoolers in the nation. Smith decided to capitalize on his buzz and skip college and enter the NBA draft and in result got drafted by the then New Orleans Hornets with the 18th pick.


Smith began truly making a name for himself two years later as a member of the Denver Nuggets alongside the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Allen Iverson, Chauncey Billups, and Kenyon Martin. It was on this team that Smith began seeing success on the court and troubles off of it. In each of his five seasons as a Denver Nugget, he saw his teams make the playoffs and even making it to the Western Conference Finals in 2009, ultimately falling to the L.A. Lakers. Through his five seasons in Denver, he averaged 13.6 points, 2 assists, 3 rebounds and 1 steal alongside stars Carmelo Anthony, Allen Iverson, and Chauncey Billups. On top of those numbers, Smith faced a 10-game ban for a brawl he started in 2006, a 24-day jail sentence for a fatal car accident and a three-game suspension for a brawl he started outside of a night club. All in his five years playing in Denver.

(Photo Credit: Doug Pensinger/Bleacher Report)

The next step in Smith’s career was in New York with the Knicks where he spent five seasons and saw the best stretch of his career individually. The peak of powers as a Knick came in the 2012-2013 season where he won the Sixth man of the year award after averaging 18 points, 2.3 assists, 5.7 rebounds, and 1.3 steals. Along with the award, Smith helped Carmelo Anthony lead the Knicks to what was their best season of the decade and the second round of the playoffs. With all the success that experienced as a Knick, off-court troubles seemed to follow him again. This time he faced a $25,000 fine from the league for posting inappropriate pictures of his twitter, which was followed by an arrest for riding a motor scooter without a license, and a five-game suspension for substance abuse (marijuana). What made this worse was the fact that he was caught in a picture smoking marijuana on a balcony before he got suspended. His stint with the Knicks ended with a trade to the Cleveland Cavaliers.


Being traded to the Cavaliers gave Smith the fresh start he needed and gave us a more focused and driven J.R. Playing alongside LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love on a legitimate contender helped Smith mature. The city of Cleveland had very few distractions forcing him to focus on his business on the court. While on the Cavs Smith saw his numbers drop but he was still an integral part of all those Cavalier teams. He became one of their best three-point shooters and perimeter defenders all while still adding his flair and style to it. His ability to get hot in the blink of an eye gave the Cavs an edge over many over their opponents and played a role in their championship season in the 2015-2016 season.



Four of the five seasons saw Smith and Cavs reach the NBA finals giving him the veteran and championship experience that many young teams and contenders are looking for. Perhaps the moment that erased all of this was his blunder in the final seconds of the game one of the 2018 NBA Finals. The Cavaliers were surprisingly tied with the Golden State Warriors when Smith got an offensive rebound off of a missed George Hill free throw and dribbled the clock out instead of calling a timeout or even getting a shot up to win the game. It was later reported that Smith thought that the Cavs were up in those final seconds of the game. The blunder wasted a golden opportunity to take home-court advantage away from the Warriors and had everyone watching confused as to what just happened. The moment was summed up perfectly with LeBron James' face of disgust after Smith looked at him in confusion.


This was the moment that all but solidified that the series over as the Cavs got swept by the Warriors. James took his talents to Los Angeles leaving the Cavs in no man’s land; the rebuilding stage. The irony of the moment is what makes J.R. Smith’s career so confusing. The one team where he had no significant off the court issues and problems was the place where he seemed to end it all.

This was the moment that seemed to end it all for J.R. Smith as a Cavalier (Original Photo Credit: Ezra Shaw/The Undefeated)

J.R. Smith is now 34 years old and maybe his time away from the game he helped clear his head. His time in Cleveland showed that he has matured and has also given him the championship experience that many contending teams could use. His ability to shoot the three-ball and defend on the perimeter is a tool that can be used by any team in today’s NBA. All of this is true but which team is willing to take a chance on him? Maybe the Brooklyn Nets, who next season will have a contender upon Kevin Durant’s return, or maybe his time in the league ended on Nov. 19 of 2018 in Detroit.

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