For anyone who followed J.R. Smith’s career, a line in an article about an NBA All-Star Week earlier this month sounded a bit familiar: The Cavaliers guard had stayed up all night before an NBA fashion show.
But unlike in previous times, it wasn’t followed with questions about how that affected his basketball game. Because since moving to Cleveland, Smith has been able to suddenly do something that seemed a bit impossible in New York at times: Focus on basketball.
“I don’t want to say it’s as much growing up, it’s just the chaos surrounding 24/7 was just not beneficial towards you trying to achieve a certain goal,” he said late last week. “So when you move away to a smaller city, there’s not as much going on, there’s not as much to do.
“You can literally find something to do in New York 24/7. I think it’s one of the best parts of moving out.”
When Smith returned to New York to face a downtrodden Knicks team on Sunday, he put up 17 points against his former team which traded him along with Iman Shumpert earlier this year. His field goal percentage rose to 46.9% in February and on the defensive end, he’s gone from .2 steals per game during his last month in New York to 1.9 per game in February. And his player efficiency rating has risen from 11.6 to 14.4 with the Cavaliers.
“J.R. Smith has been a dream for us, as a team and for me personally,” Cavaliers coach David Blatt told reporters earlier this week. “I love the guy. I love coaching him. He comes to work every single day. He’s a great teammate. He’s playing both ends of the court for us consistently.
“He’s one of the main reasons for our turnaround, together with Iman, who simply started later because of the injury. Those guys, honestly, they’ve been a godsend. They really have. They turned the team around.”
He still does, however, still do that thing that used to make Knicks fans and Mike Woodson memorably cringe where he’ll go through stages where he throws up his shot when it might have been better to make another pass. But the difference now, it seems, is that his team is good enough to have those hot streaks outweigh the cold.
Smith said that having the practice facility close to his house was a big help.
“I’m just more in the rhythm, I think,” he said. “I get a lot of shots up day and night now … it makes it a much more basketball environment.”
With the All-Star Game during fashion week and the fashion show tie in, Smith was just one of many NBA players who got a chance to mingle with the fashion elite and perhaps start thinking about their own lines one day. It’s something Smith said he may one day be interested in. He said he thinks its something that has to start small – with a line of hats or accessories or something.
But he doesn’t want to do it anytime soon.
“I figure it wouldn’t have my undivided attention,” he said. “So I wouldn’t do it now.”