As long as Denver has a consistent J.R. Smith, the Nuggets title hopes remain intact and a lot less farfetched than most would imagine.
By Andrew Macaluso
Billups may be gone, but Smith has found new life in the absence of Denver’s previous star lineup.
Photo Credit: Keith Allison
At least that’s what everybody calls him these days. Equipped with out-of-this-world talent, unlimited ranged, a 44 inch vertical leap and a swagger that many can’t match, J.R. Smith can be your best friend or your worst nightmare.
He packs an offensive confidence that’s similar to a Kobe Bryant or a Carmelo Anthony, knowing he can shoot and make it from nearly anywhere on the court, so why all of the struggles throughout his career? Why all of the negative surroundings behind the 25-year-old former St. Benedicts Prep player? During the early stages of his career with Chris Paul and the Hornets, it’s easy to say that J.R. was more of a “wild-child” than a ball player. He could shoot the lights out of a gym but he didn’t do it with consistency, which often earned him early trips to the bench or a confrontation with the coaching staff.
Byron Scott couldn’t handle him, the Bulls didn’t even bother, so eventually he fell in the lap of George Karl and his Denver Nuggets where, if anything, he’s not only become a better and more matured player, but someone teams fear more than their starters.
Now in his fifth-year with the Nuggets, Smith’s maturity the last two years just might have been exactly what he needed in order to stay in a Denver uniform until the day he retires. He’s already stated that he wants to remain in Denver for the remainder of his career and team president Josh Kroenke has stated his pleasure of trying to get Smith a long-term deal once the season comes to an end. With the Carmelo to the Knicks deal finally over and done with, Denver has become arguably the most dangerous team in the League.
Amazingly, eight players have averaged double-digit scoring for the Nuggets since the trade, and the team’s offensive efficiency is still the best in the NBA. Yes, folks, the Nuggets are playing team organized basketball. And that makes them very scary.
You could say that Ty Lawson benefits the most from this trade because he now becomes the starter and has a reliable backup and All-Star caliber PG in Raymond Felton, but in my opinion, J.R. benefits the most from this trade. Playing behind an offensive player like ‘Melo for the last half a decade isn’t easy, in fact, it might be frustrating to some extent. Just because a player is making millions of dollars doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re not interested in playing basketball anymore, and J.R. is definitely one of those guys who loves to be on the court with his teammates. And most of all he just wants to win.
But with Anthony now out of the picture, Smith no longer has to come in off the bench and rifle up shots just so he can get his points for the night before Karl would put Carmelo back in. ‘Til this day that’s the reason why I believe J.R. struggled with inconsistency off the bench most nights. Some nights he’ll come in and start off hot and end up finishing the game with 43 points and a two fistfuls of 3s, but knowing he’s become “the man” who can lead this team to an NBA title has made him that much more relaxed and comfortable with his role off the bench.
Yes, he’s playing fewer minutes this season and taking less shots (9.8 from the previous 13.8), but he’s also become a better all-around player. He’s making up for the lack of rebounding at the small forward position now that ‘Melo is gone and he’s developed more willingness to pass the ball and try to get his teammates involved instead of being selfish. And the most exciting part, he’s defending, and extremely well I might add. J.R. is a big reason why the Nuggets are allowing only 97.0 points per game instead of the 107.9 previously given up when ‘Melo was in uniform.
The more these guys feed off each other, the better they will be.
With not only the best offensive team in the League, but the deepest bench as well, not many teams, if any, are going to be able to be able to figure out exactly how and who to stop on this Nuggets team. Any one is capable of lighting up the scoreboard, which makes it difficult for coaches to try and come up with a solid game plan.
And with the playoffs starting Apr. 17, whoever the Nuggets draw first (Thunder?) are going to have their hands full and could eventually get upset in the first round. But as long as Denver has J.R. Smith, he’ll do whatever he can and pull up from wherever he wants in order to make sure that his team gets a step closer to that golden ball.
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