The flashy New York Knicks dealing noted nightlife enthusiast J.R. Smith into the dreary Cleveland winter is a script idea so hacky that it would have been laughed off of the table two decades ago. Starting with the unfortunate move that sent Knicks legend Walt Frazier to Cleveland in 1977, the idea gained silver screen immortality when the "Major League" franchise gave credibility to the trope that Cleveland was the major league city that no athlete wanted to work in.
J.R. Smith actual life, it turns out, is a living and breathing B-movie idea. Traded from the Knicks to the Cavaliers on Jan. 7, he has indirectly aligned his nightlife-less existence in Cleveland with his solid start to a career as a Cavalier.
"Being more consistent. Consistency has been something that ... I wouldn't say lacked, but it's just been stints where I get hot, and then you go cold for two, three games, whatever the case may be. Just staying consistent, and that involves staying in the gym. So for me, I got my brother here with me, so we're in the gym every night, playing one-on-one, or whatever the case may be, as well as me getting my rest. 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."
(Knicks fans? They would say that Smith lacked consistency.)
Upon first click, one would rightfully deduce that Smith was producing more of the same in Cleveland. He shot just a tick over 40 percent with the Knicks this season, same as last season, and he’s just a tick below 40 percent in Cleveland after 11 games. His per game numbers are up, but only because of a minutes increase – per-minute, Smith’s scoring marks with the Cavs are right in line with what he brought in New York this year, the year before, and the year before that.
Take away his bookend games with the Cavs, his ohfer five debut and 2-11 clank-fest from Cleveland’s win over Detroit on Tuesday, and Smith is shooting 43 percent from the floor with his new team. And, as our Dan Devine noted in a great piece on Tuesday, Smith is rightfully being encouraged to act as a volume scorer as a starter with Cleveland, and until Tuesday’s 1-for-6 showing against the Pistons, he’s responded with a killer touch from the outside. His most recent performance dropped his percentage down to 37 percent from long range, about average, but that’s not going to stop the man.
As Dr. Devine pointed out, Smith is pulling off some historic stuff from behind the arc – after 11 games as a Cavalier he’s already 59th on Cleveland’s all-time three-point attempts list. He did that in three weeks!
Aldridge, after noticing Smith’s quotes about the lack of nightlife in Cleveland, attempted to get J.R. to open up a bit more as to what he got from enjoying the City That Never Sleeps:
Me: Did you find that exploring that life, because you could, wasn't all it was cracked up to be? I can spend whatever I want, and at the end of the day, it really doesn't mean anything?
JRS: Especially from the standpoint of making me better. I always made myself better by staying in the gym. When you replace that with stuff off the court, then you're taking away from what made you who you are, or what got you to a certain point. It was kind of pulling me down in a sense, of not getting enough rest, not doing things you're supposed to be doing, things you're used to doing. So when you start missing those shots you're supposed to make, especially wide-open shots, it was like, alright, what's going on, what's going on? Instead of looking at what it is, you're reverting to that even more, instead of going back to the basics. So I think that's the greatest part about being here.
Smith deftly slid away from that one, but one can’t ignore Smith’s history. His miserable showings in the 2012 and 2013 playoffs were blamed on excessive late night jaunts in New York and Miami, with no less than Rihanna calling the guy out via social media.
Taking things even deeper, Grantland’s Jason Concepcion did a bit of research and found that Smith’s shooting percentage dropped from 42 percent overall to 39 percent on Sunday, with the presumption that Smith was still hurting from a Saturday night out even mid-afternoon on Sunday.
Spurred on by those findings, Harrison Chase at Harvard Sports Analysis Collective, in a great piece you should really all go read, decided to create a “Party Score” to see where Smith ranked amongst all Sunday players dating back to 1974 (when Prohibition was lifted, or when Basketball-Reference.com started charting all NBA stats).
“ … using these stats, I tested the null hypothesis of same shooting percentage against the alternative hypothesis of different shooting percentage and calculated a z score for each player. I then multiplied that number by -1 (so that a highly significant partier would have a high number) and then made that number a player’s ‘Party Score.’”
Unhappy with Smith’s middling ranking amongst all Sunday players, Chase decided to only use players that had worked in and shot in a significant series of Sunday games. Here’s where Smith came out:
J.R. Smith, the NBA’s second-biggest partier over the last 41 years!
Reggie Miller also ranks highly on that list, and he spent his Saturday nights in Indianapolis, where they don’t let you sneak spiced rum into the booth at Steak and Shake past 10:30 (I’ve tried).
Rasheed Wallace ranks highly on that list, he was once caught in a truck with Damon Stoudamire that was full of marijuana and (seriously) Mike’s Hard Lemonade bottles. Tim Duncan, crusher of several Diet Dr. Pepper cans, ranks just behind Rasheed, though.
Patrick Ewing makes an appearance, as he did frequently at Atlanta’s Gold Club late some evenings, but so does Avery Johnson. That is to say, “ordained minister, Avery Johnson.”
This isn’t to dismiss Chase’s findings (which, again, you really should read), he did great work here, but we can see what’s clear. From December onward Sunday games are mostly either playoff games, or nationally televised games. Yes, the NBA averages plenty of nondescript regular season contests on Sundays, but once the April-through-June contests are tossed in the mix and the ABC games start to pile up following the Super Bowl, things tilt toward scads of games played between two very good basketball teams.
Smith, who played on many very good teams in Denver, and a few good teams in New York, was going up against some of the best that the NBA had to offer on his Sunday appearances. And because of his proximity to both Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony in Denver, and his time spent with the Knicks, he was scheduled for quite a few nationally televised contests on Sunday that perhaps his team didn’t deserve, as the NBA trolled for ratings.
J.R. Smith admits to loving the nightlife, and he’s at least currently hoping that Cleveland’s supposed lack of nightlife (which we all know is bogus, you can get into as much trouble in Cleveland as in any other big town) influences him to regain the gym-led muscle memory that made him a consistent contributor prior to his time in New York.
Of course, J.R. Smith has never been a consistent contributor, at any stop. He’s even shot 6-for-27 in his last two games with the Cavaliers. He’s always run hot and cold, and that’s just fine – because the hot gets so hot. The Cavs will take him, and possibly win it all with him, warts and all.
Most importantly? The idea that players don’t want to go to Cleveland remains hack. Those days are over.
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