The case for J.R. Smith:
Pro: His playoff experience and familiarity with LeBron James
The Cleveland Cavaliers traded Dion Waiters when LeBron James returned and one of the players they added as a result was J.R. Smith, and after that, Smith was a crucial part of the Cavaliers’ title-contending teams.
While Smith does have his infamous NBA Finals blunder under his belt, he is still much more familiar with LeBron and is someone who already knows what it takes to contend for a championship with LeBron, which will help his case.
Con: He hasn’t played professional basketball in 16 months
Waiters has struggled to stay on the court and does not have much of a case over Smith in this regard, but with Smith, it is more extreme. Smith has not played in a professional basketball game since November of 2018.
That is 16 months without NBA game action. And while guys can say all they want about how they stay in shape, that is going to make a difference. Smith very well could be sluggish out the gate and the Lakers are not working with much time between now and the playoffs.
Pro: He fits more organically in the Lakers’ needed role
While Waiters has the ability to be the second unit’s playmaker and take the ball up the court, there is concern that the same thing will happen in LA that happened in Cleveland and he will not embrace a simple three and D role when LeBron is on the court.
And while Waiters has had great shooting seasons, he has not been as consistent over the years as Smith from the three-point line. Smith knows what it means to be an off-ball, catch and shoot scorer and is not going to need any coaching up or ironing out to embrace that role.
Con: His defense has slipped over the years
The second half of that role, which is the defense, has been slipping for J.R Smith in recent years. He has not contributed more than 1.0 defensive win shares since the 2015-2016 season, which is a problem.
Waiters, on the other hand, posted 1.1 defensive win shares last season despite only playing have the season and because of his age, at this point in their careers, is a better perimeter defender than J.R. Smith.