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Lakers Season In Review: J.R. Smith

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J.R. Smith had some of the best celebrations of the 2020 NBA playoffs as he took nearly permanent residence on the Lakers’ bench.

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2020 NBA Finals - Game Three Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Editor’s Note: Welcome to our “2020 Lakers Season In Review” series, where we’ll be looking back at every member of this Lakers roster as the offseason commences, and answering some questions about what they contributed (or didn’t) to the team’s 17th championship, as well as discussing what their situation is moving forward. Today, let’s discuss J.R. Smith.

How did he play?

Not great, Bob.

The Lakers signed Smith as a backcourt insurance policy following Avery Bradley’s decision to opt out of the restart. Then, another opening in the guard rotation came up when Rajon Rondo got injured before scrimmages even started in Orlando. There was a clear and present need for another Lakers guard to step up, but J.R. Smith wasn’t the answer.

Smith came to the Lakers with a reputation of being a sharpshooter, but he didn’t find his rhythm in the bubble. He made just seven of his 22 shots in the seeding games and missed his first eight 3-pointers before finally cashing in on one during the regular-season finale against Sacramento.

Smith didn’t exactly make up for his offensive shortcomings on the other end of the court, either. The entire Lakers team was a trainwreck defensively during the seeding games, but Smith was the worst, at least according to his defensive rating.

That’s why it came as something of a surprise when Smith was a part of the 10-man playoff rotation against Portland after the Lakers lost Game 1. For the next four games, Smith came in with the bench unit either at the end of the first or the start of the second quarter, and with all due respect to the now two-time NBA champ, it was unclear why Frank Vogel kept doing that. There was likely some value in Smith soaking up minutes when the other perimeter players needed rest after defending CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard, but Smith didn’t provide much beyond that.

Smith didn’t make any egregious mistakes on defense, which is probably why he earned his spot over Dion Waiters, but his offensive performance was mostly a choose your own adventure of miscues. Smith didn’t shoot well, as half of his total postseason 3-pointers came in one fourth quarter against the Blazers. He made some comical passing decisions and was responsible for three separate turnovers immediately off of inbounds passes. He put up an off-balance floater that would make Danny Green blush.

At one point, Smith had both feet out of bounds on a 3-point attempt. NBA players notoriously have difficulty navigating the sideline on corner threes, but it takes a special player to step out with two feet.

Once Rondo returned, Smith was basically eliminated from the rotation. The Lakers no longer needed to use their insurance policy. But even if his on-court performance was unremarkable, the 2020 Lakers will always have the J.R. Smith celebrations.

What is his contract situation moving forward?

Smith was signed as a replacement player, so he is an unrestricted free agent moving forward, and the Lakers have no bird rights on him to sign him to a contract above the minimum unless they cut into their cap space.

Will he be back?

It’s hard to imagine a scenario where the Lakers would want Smith back. He didn’t add anything defensively, which is a must for a Vogel-coached team, and his shooting was so inconsistent as to render him unplayable. On a personal level, it was nice to see Smith find a measure of redemption after being out of the league for so long. He might still be an NBA player, but he clearly isn’t worthy of a spot on a championship roster at this point. Not even being a Klutch client should earn Smith another contract from the Lakers.

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