For the majority of his career, Cleveland Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith has been a walking, sprinting, shooting and — in the wrong moments — clanking catalyst for face palms.
"Poor shot selection" and "horrible decision maker" have terrorized his reputation as a player on his three previous teams.
However, in the NBA it seems players rarely die. On the contrary, they shuttle from one system to the next, favoring one set of X's and O's, over the other. Smith has served as an unexpected spark plug for the Cavs after they landed him in the mid-season trade that sent disgruntled guard Dion Waiters packing and landed Smith with fellow New York Knicks exile Iman Shumpert.
His current, and career-most, positive time with the Cavs isn't a testament to head coach David Blatt or co-coach LeBron James. It's a testament to providing Smith with what he's needed to thrive in the NBA since his rookie season -- less responsibility, decreased dependability and zero decision making.
While Steve Kerr and crew are undoubtedly thinking up ways to slow down James — that's, undoubtedly, where the team's defensive focus will start — it won't be where it ends. It's Finals basketball, and if you're wearing an enemy garment you're a threat. Every player demands attention; at this time of the year they're all threats. The Warriors have no room for opposing players transitioning from obscurity to popularity, at the expense of shoddy defense (hello Matthew Dellavedova).
They have even less room for the rebirth of Smith.
In his first post-season appearance with the Cavs, Smith's averaging 13.5 buckets on 46 percent shooting from the field, while grabbing five rebounds per game. He's a capable shooter who's streaky enough to run off multiple three bombs in times of crunch or comfort.
For the Warriors, giving Smith a bit of hardwood nostalgia is a strategy that could pay off. He's thriving off Cleveland's drive-and-kick style offense to knock down shots that serve as an energy boost. Infectious as energy can be, it's enough to get a team over the hump on the road and push you ahead at home.
The Warriors have enough to deal with in James; marginalizing the Cavs' role players is of equal importance.
Forcing Smith to be a decision maker comes at a gamble. It will require being selective on when to double team LeBron James, if to double at all. When there's a defender six or more feet away from Smith (wide open), he's shooting 15.8 percent from the field, including 11.8 percent from three. Granted we're talking playoffs basketball, so those open opportunities are few. However, 61 percent of Smith's shots have been fired within less than two seconds of touch time.
Giving Smith room to operate and forcing him to create opportunities for himself could result in wasted possessions for the Cavaliers. If history serves correctly, allowing Smith to put the ball on the floor to force the issue on offense has more benefit for the W's. After all, what good is holding James to 20 points via double teams if Smith runs off 15 points from uncontested threes?
One way to avoid superstar dominance is to force other players to beat you. It's a defensive philosophy in momentous games you'll hear on most sidelines. In this instance, perhaps the W's should allow Smith to beat himself.