When the Los Angeles Lakers travel to Orlando this week, they’ll take two players that haven’t logged a single minute for them this season: Dion Waiters, who signed with the team in March, and J.R. Smith, who signed with the team on Tuesday.
Waiters has played a total of 42 minutes this season, which obviously isn’t a lot, but it’s still more time than Smith has spent on an NBA court this season. In fact, Smith hasn’t played a game of NBA basketball since Nov. 19, 2018. He was 33 then; he’s 34 now, and will turn 35 before the season ends.
Luckily for Smith, he doesn’t need to do much to make an impression because his reputation precedes him, for better or for worse. The Lakers also brought Smith in for a workout in March, so they had an idea of how much he had left in the tank before they signed him.
Smith won’t have his first official practice with the Lakers until later this month, but his new head coach, Frank Vogel, is already confident that he can contribute to the success the team has enjoyed this season.
“I haven’t had a chance to work with J.R. yet,” Vogel said in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday. “I did speak to him, but it was just on a ‘welcome to the team’ type of basis, type of conversation. We’ll get into all of that when he’s fully acclimated and able to be with our team — in particular, when we get down to Orlando.
“In terms of what he brings to the table: the experience factor. This guy’s a big time player. He’s proven it over the course of his career. We know he can help us. We almost added him earlier in the year when we added Dion Waiters, and now we have the luxury of having both.”
Smith, in his 15 years in the NBA, has made the playoffs 11 times and the NBA Finals four times, most recently in 2018, when he infamously forgot how much time was left on the clock and cost the Cavaliers a crucial game on the road. Outside of that all-time mistake, Smith was an impactful player for Cleveland in the postseason, averaging 11.3 points per game on 41.2% shooting from the field — including 40.6% shooting from behind the arc — through four seasons.
In addition, Smith is ranked sixth among active players in 3-point field goals made. Only Stephen Curry, Kyle Korver, James Harden, Vince Carter and Jamal Crawford have made for 3-pointers than Smith. For his career, he’s converted 37.3% of his 3-point attempts while averaging 5.3 attempts per game.
The question isn’t whether Smith was a good player, though; it’s whether or not he still is, and if he’ll have enough time to adapt to his new surroundings to be productive. When it comes to the latter issue, Vogel said that he’s not all that concerned for Smith or Waiters.
“I think there’s going to be plenty of time,” Vogel said. “We have a pretty simple system that we think can be picked up pretty quickly — our guys picked it up pretty quickly to start this season — and we hope that it’s going to be the same for both Dion and J.R.”
As confident as Vogel is in his new players’ abilities — and his coaching staff’s ability to get them integrated with the team — he understands that it’s going to take more than just Smith or Waiters to make up for the loss of Avery Bradley, who opted out of the season’s restart for personal reasons.
“We’re not going to ask him to come in and be Avery Bradley,” Vogel said. “He’s going to come in and be J.R. Smith. Just fill that position more than fill that role. Avery’s loss is a obviously a huge loss for us, but we’re a ‘next man up’ team. J.R.’s going to come in and help fill that void, but we have a lot of guys that can come in and do the same.”