The Cavs finally struck a deal with one of the players acquired in a midseason trade. After hanging out in the free agency market after declining a $6.4 million player option, J.R. Smith agreed to a two-year, $10 million contract with a player option.

This also happened…

So now we’re all on our hands and knees waiting for Tristan Thompson to re-sign with the Cavs. It’s going to happen, it’s just a matter of him signing his $6.7 million qualifying offer and becoming an unrestricted free agent next year or him and the Cavs agreeing on a contract extension.

One thing we do know is that Smith will be under contract for at least another year. And even though he heard crickets in free agency, he’s an important piece to the Cavs’ championship blueprint.

Teams headed by LeBron James need to have multiple shooting options available. This isn’t just a matter of whether LeBron is or isn’t good enough to shoot from deep anymore, it’s more of having guys in proper spots for LeBron to drive and score/distribute the ball. Smith was one of those guys that was able to do just that the latter half of last season.

The Cavs are top heavy and filled with role players and super role players who have their… role cut out for them. Some of those role players are required to create space with their shooting ability on offense. Almost as important for these shooters is that they don’t veer too much from what they were brought here to do.

A perfect example of the latter is Dion Waiters at the beginning of last year. Dion, as much as I thought he had the potential to be a solid part of a championship caliber team, couldn’t adjust fast enough to what the Cavs needed him to do. Instead of eliminating more shots from the mid-range and shooting more 3’s and shots at the rim, he pretty much took the shots he did the season prior.

According to Basketball-Reference:

Dion Waiters’ percentage of field goal attempts by distance
0-3 feet: ’13-’14- 28.4%

’14-‘15 (w/ Cavs)- 34.2%

16-24 feet: ’13-’14- 29.2%

’14-‘15 (w/ Cavs)- 28.7%

24+ feet (3-pointers): ’13-’14- 25.2%

’14-‘15 (w/ Cavs)- 25.1%

While technically Waiters did lessen his mid-range shots, it wasn’t of any significant proportions. He was soon shipped off for someone who eventually could fulfill the 3-point shooting duties in J.R. Smith.

Much like Waiters, Smith loves shooting from the mid-range. Before he was traded to the Cavs, J.R. was shooting a career high 34.3% of his shots from 16-24 feet away (and hitting just 43% of them). It was time for both teams to move on from their respective guards.

However, the more veteran Smith proved to be more willing to move into the role that the Cavs intended for Waiters. According to Basketball-Reference, J.R. went from a 3-Point Attempt Rate (3PAr) of 35.9% – the second lowest of his career – to a career high 66.9% – a career high.

But it’s not just that the Cavs have guys that are shooting 3’s but that they have guys that have and will continue to make them – this distinction is important.

Last year the Cavs brought in Mike Miller in hopes that he would be a knockdown shooter, more so for the playoffs than the regular season. However, that never came to fruition. Miller, a 40.9% career 3-pt career shooter at the time and coming off a blistering 45.9% from the year prior (on his most attempts in four years), shot a career low – by 10% – of 31.3% from deep. Needless to say, he didn’t get much of a chance in the playoffs, playing just 65 minutes, most of them to spell the suspension of J.R. and injury to Kyrie Irving.

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This year the Cavs brought in another veteran who they hope doesn’t show the type of regression in shooting that Miller did last year. Richard Jefferson, for the most part, has been a trustworthy 3-pt shooter throughout his career with a few outlier seasons, mostly at the beginning of his career.

Something worth noting is that throughout his career, it seems the less Jefferson shoots from deep, the less efficient he is at it. After the first two years of his career, the four times he shot worse than 35% from 3, he’s had a 3PAr of less than 30% in three of the four seasons. Those three seasons came with three different teams in his age 25, 29, and 32 seasons. So it’s not just an age thing. In addition, his four best seasons shooting from 3 have all come when shooting 3’s at a rate of 46% or higher. With all the other help the Cavs have, expect RJ to shoot it early and often when he’s on the court.

Meanwhile, in terms of making shots from long range, J.R. Smith has been hit or miss from season-to-season, but mostly hit.

The role change for Smith is talked about ad nauseam, but it’s important. With the Knicks last year, he was shooting 35.6% from 3, below the 37.1% he shot for his career coming into the season. When he got to the Cavs, all J.R. had to worry about was taking 3’s; not being the second best option on the floor with Carmelo Anthony and not trying to carry the offense while Melo wasn’t playing. This change helped Smith shoot 39% with the Cavs in the regular season.

However, Smith’s good shooting comes with a caveat.

He stills shows his flaws at times. He’s a streaky shooter. When he’s on, he is on. But when he’s off, not many times does he find his stroke in the middle of the game. He also likes, as in actually enjoys, taking contested shots at times – 33% of all his shots last year came with “tight” coverage.

These flaws, however, are digestible for the Cavs if he’s able to limit them and keep his shot making at a high level.

Winning cures all, and so does a high shooting percentage for these two.

J.R. Smith and Richard Jefferson. J.R. and RJ. Expect these two vets to help the Cavs space the floor for the Big 3 to operate.

 

*Stats courtesy of NBA.com/stats unless noted otherwise.