The Cleveland Cavaliers are currently on a seven-game winning streak and one obvious reason why is LeBron James’ return from an injury two weeks ago. A less-stated reason why: J.R. Smith’s move from New York to Cleveland.
Since joining the Cavs 10 games ago, Smith has seen his production increase from 10.9 PPG and 40.2% shooting with the Knicks, to 15.2 PPG and 41.7% shooting with the Cavaliers. His three-point shooting (38.8%), free-throw shooting (81.8%) and steals (1.5) are also noticeably up with his new team.
Obviously the Cavs appreciate Smith and vice versa, so what’s the big change? For starters, he’s taking more shots from behind the arc, which has led to an improvement. He took 35.9% of his shots from three-point land in New York, but has increased that amount to 61.9% in Cleveland. The fact that Kevin Love is posting up and kicking it out to Smith on the wings has definitely helped his game recently.
A larger part of why the 10-year veteran is flourishing is that he no longer has the distraction of New York. In an interview with NBA.com, Smith discussed how NYC’s nightlife made his mind drift away from basketball a little too much. Here’s one excerpt from the interview:
“I think this is the best situation for me, ’cause there’s nothing but basketball. There’s nothing you expect but basketball. There’s nothing, there’s no going out, there’s no late nights. There’s video games, basketball and basketball. So it’s a great thing, ’cause I go back to where I came from. When I grew up, I never, I wasn’t allowed to go out. I missed my prom because I went to an AAU tournament, and all that stuff. For me, it was basketball, basketball, basketball.
And then when I got in the situation where I was at an early age, it was more, alright, let me see what this life is about, as opposed to just keep going. So now, I get the chance to get back to my roots.”
Another point Smith made is that, due to going out so much in New York, he wasn’t getting enough rest. However, now that he’s in Cleveland and not dealing with a bunch of distractions, Smith believes that things are much better.
Considering that the Cavaliers are already loaded on offense with Kyrie Irving, James and Love, Smith should continue getting plenty of good looks throughout the rest of the season.
Now, the big question is if the Cavs can continue playing good defense. During the seven-game win streak, they’ve held opponents to 47.3% shooting – much better than the 53.3% shooting in the first seven games of January. Assuming they can keep this solid defense up, then their odds of winning the championship increase dramatically.