The Cleveland Cavaliers were without all-star point guard Kyrie Irving throughout the first 24 games of the 2015-16 campaign due to a left leg injury he suffered in game one of last season’s NBA finals against the Golden State Warriors.
In Irving’s absence, the Cavaliers the Cavaliers managed to sustain a 17-7 record, holding down the top spot in the much-improved Eastern conference. Without Irving in the rotation, David Blatt and company looked to the role players to make up for the loss of their recovering point guard. J.R. Smith being one of these players.
During his first season with the Cavaliers, Smith found success from behind the arc. In 31.8 minutes per game, the 30-year-old managed to score 12.7 points per game while shooting 42% from the field and 39% from three-point territory. With both Kyrie Irving and LeBron James playing the role of playmakers, Smith was able to camp out on the three-point line and let the shots come to him — as 66.3% of his shots came from deep with the Cavaliers last season.
This season has been a complete different story for J.R. Smith. Being placed in a playmaking role, something he isn’t accustomed to with the Cavaliers, Smith’s shooting numbers saw a dip from his previous season, as he shot 37% from the floor and 35% from downtown.
Smith’s lackluster shooting came to an end after Kyrie Irving returned to the Cavaliers’ lineup.Smith’s shooting numbers jumped from 35% to 42% per 36 minutes since Irving’s return to action. Not only is he converting at a higher percent, he has also been given the opportunity to shoot the ball more often, hoisting up 9.4 three-pointers per game compared to only 6.5 pre-Irving return.
The Cavaliers have been next to unstoppable with their starting backcourt healthy. According to SBNation’s Fear The Sword, in the 113 minutes Irving and Smith have been on the floor at the same time, Cleveland is scoring 125.5 points per 100 possessions; however, during the 123 minutes Smith has been on the floor without Irving, that number sinks to 99.8.
In the Cavaliers’ last three games, all with a healthy Irving, J.R. Smith has averaged 25 points while shooting 64% from the field and 63% from deep.
There is an obvious difference in the Cavaliers offense with Kyrie Irving back from injury, and J.R. Smith has been able to thrive more than he has all season now that he is out of the role as the team’s playmaker.
Cleveland currently sits at 25-9 and own the first seed in the eastern conference. They are 8-2 with Kyrie Irving in the lineup.