With his contract situation and his physical in the rearview, J.R. Smith returned to practice on Monday, and will play Tuesday when the team wraps up their pre-season against the Wizards in Columbus.
Head coach Tyronn Lue said on both Sunday and Monday that Smith’s minutes will be limited to avoid injury as the sharpshooter begins his trek back to “basketball shape.” Lue set Smith’s minute restriction for Tuesday’s pre-season finale at 12-13 minutes, whether or not he starts the game.
“I’m not sure if I’m going to start him or bring him off the bench so he can get an ovation from the fans,” Lue said Monday.
With that idea in mind, Smith seemed excited for his return both at the Schottenstein Center on Tuesday, and at the Q on October 25th against his former team.
“Wherever I go in Cleveland or the state of Ohio – I was just out in Columbus, when to an Ohio State football game – the fans were crazy,” he said. “So that will be something special and I’ll definitely treasure that.”
Both coach and player agreed that Smith was picking up schemes quickly, but that the only worry at the moment was getting J.R. back in condition.
Smith said that his biggest adjustment in the earliest part of his return to the court was playing 5-on-5 because of, as Lue alluded to yesterday, the aspects of the game which require a full set of teammates and opponents of similar skill.
“More than anything, trying to get timing coming off screens, where I’m supposed to be at the right times,” he said. “Guarding people, coming from the defensive end, transitioning to the offensive end when you get a stop, running the floor and hitting those transition threes like I’m accustomed to shooting. Chasing guys off the screens. More on the defensive end opposed to the offensive end.”
Smith averaged 1.08 points per possession coming off of screens in 2015-16, ranking fifth in the NBA among players who played over 70 games and came off of screens on 10 percent of their offensive possessions. His effective field goal percentage of 55.4 also ranked fifth.
It is those types of shots that most excited Lue about Smith’s returns, as well as his defense.
“Tough shots. Just defensively, the way he can guard and defend,” Lue said. “Also, guys have to respect him on the floor, when he’s on the court. They have to pay attention to J.R., and that frees and opens up a lot of other guys.”
Lue also added that Channing Frye returned to practice on Monday after missing the last pre-season game and Sunday’s practice.
Frye will play in tomorrow’s pre-season finale and Lue said he looked fine during practice on Monday.
The 6-11 forward averaged 7.5 points on 17.2 minutes per games over 26 contests for the Cavaliers last season.