This summer, I expect to hear J.R. Smith's name brought up repeatedly in
connection with the Bulls. I don't really feel like dealing with
Smith piecemeal so I might as well get my feelings out on the table.
For those unfamiliar with Smith, he's a 25 year-old 6-6 shooting guard
who has played the last 4 seasons for the Denver Nuggets. In 2004, the
New Orleans Hornets signed him out of high school as the 18th overall
pick in the NBA draft. After two years with New Orleans, he was traded
as "filler" in the trade that brought P.J. Brown to the Bulls and sent
Tyson Chandler to New Orleans. The Bulls kept Smith for 6 days...as
long as it took to get a couple 2nd round picks from the Nuggets...the
Bulls had absolutely no interest in Smith.
Smith is an extremely talented scorer, averaging 18.8 points per 36
minutes over his 7-year NBA career. He's also adequately efficient with
a career true shooting percentage of 54.7%. I haven't watched many of
his games since neither New Orleans nor Denver tend to get a lot of
national TV run. From what I've seen, he's got a huge "Wow Factor."
Unfortunately, he's also got a huge "WTF Factor." He's an
He's a career 37% 3-point shooter, which is OK, but that doesn't really
tell the story. When Smith is on, he doesn't just make 3-pointers, he
makes 3-pointers from what ought to be 4-point range....with a hand in
his face...and off balance. Seriously, he can be amazing.
Cutting to the chase, I have no interest in Smith...zero. He's a bit of
a whack job and a coach's nightmare. While I haven't seen many of his
games, I can recognize a million dollar player with a 10 cent head
when I see him.
This is what Smith is. Someday someone might rehabilitate him and he
could become an absolute jewel. The Bulls need to make some incremental
improvement, but they don't need to take this kind of risk.
As a 19 year-old rookie, New Orleans head coach Byron Scott started
Smith in 56 of the 76 games Smith played, but only played him 24 minutes
per game. After that rookie season, the uber-talented Smith has been a
bench player. It's the kind of thing that makes you go "hmm." And
it's not as if he's been coached by clueless novices...Scott and Denver
head coach George Karl know the game. Even when the Nuggets lost their
top scorer Carmelo Anthony, Karl didn't start Smith or see fit to play
him big minutes. In their 2011 playoff loss to the Oklahoma City
Thunder, Karl played Smith a paltry 15 minutes per game.
It's been said that it got to the point that Karl refused to talk to
Smith. He'd send him in the game from time to time, but didn't want to
deal with him. For those keeping track, this is not a good thing.
Oh yeah, part of the reason many Bulls fans are all gaga about Smith is
that Smith is a free agent. Smith supporters believe that he'll be
available for the mid-level exception (aka the MLE...about $5million
year 1 salary and, since the Bulls are over the salary cap. the only way
that they can sign a free agent outright). If the Bulls could sign
Smith with the MLE, they wouldn't need to trade any of their current
Pure and simple, Smith's a headcase. While he undeniably has loads of
talent, he's never quite taken the game or his career seriously. After 7
seasons, I happen to believe that those who believe that this might
change with the Bulls are simply foolish optimists. These fans will
counter with something like, "Yeah, but the Bulls have to do something!"
I hear ya, but the Bulls won 62 games and don't need to employ a
roulette wheel strategy to the team's improvement. They don't need to
"take a flyer" on a proven loser...and that's what J.R. Smith is...a