It seems like J.R. Smith is coming around on this whole “playing off the bench” thing.
Though he, unlike Tristan Thompson, first bristled at losing his starting job, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ sometimes-sharp-shooting guard is singing a different tune these days: He now believes the bench that he’s a part of is the best in the NBA.
As Smith told ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin:
“It’s two games in, but me having the full confidence in my teammates, I think we got the best bench in the league,” shooting guard JR Smith told ESPN after Cleveland’s bench outscored the Milwaukee Bucks 45-23 in a 116-97 win on Friday. “I mean, you can go around from 6 through 12 or whatever and mark it up against anybody else’s bench, and by far, we got the best bench. And we have more experience too.”
Your first inclination should be to disagree. Your second impulse should be to seek out a better situation. And it’s here you start to realize that, on paper, Smith isn’t off his rocker.
The Cavaliers stretch two to three real NBA players deep at every position. That’s not something they’ve been able to say at any previous point in the LeBron James era—including his first go-round with the organization. At shooting guard alone they have Dwyane Wade, Kyle Korver and Smith—guys who would be a part of every team’s rotation. Iman Shumper is a member of that carousel as well.
The 3 and 4 spots are a little thin, with Jeff Green and Cedi Osman listed as the primary backups, but Smith and Korver both pitch in at small forward, while James logs enough minutes at the 4, behind Jae Crowder, to make Green a more-than-adequate emergency safety net.
Point guard remains the problem spot…for now. Derrick Rose isn’t very good as a starter option, and Jose Calderon is a million years old in NBA terms. But the situation will improve once Isaiah Thomas is healthy, and the Cavaliers get enough playmaking out of James and Wade in the meantime to limit how much Calderon has to see the floor.
And let us end with some food for thought: It’s still early, and the Cavaliers still have to iron out a lot of wrinkles, but their second unit currently owns the eighth-best plus-minus in the league, according to NBA.com. That falls well short of Smith’s declaration, but it’s good enough to render the Cavaliers a far more balanced team than they’ve been in the recent past.