J.R. Smith didn’t know the score. I’m not sure it cost his team the game, but it certainly cost his team a chance to win the game in the final seconds. It’s a mistake you can’t make. It’s a great reminder that if you don’t practice time and score in some fashion every day in practice, you are making a mistake. Put your guys in different situations, and every now and then blow the whistle and make them look at you – don’t look at the scoreboard – and ask them what the score is. If they don’t know, put them on the line. You’ll be amazed how often your own players are in live-action, late-game drills and they can’t tell you the score on call. If you want them to know it, you have to practice it.
J.R. Smith is a loose cannon. He’s a streaky, talented player who has the x-factor ability – he can put a team over the top, but he’s also go some shortcomings in his mental approach. He plays with irrational confidence, which is something I think he needs. He’s a lot more confident at times than he should be, but that’s part of his value when he really gets it going. He thinks he’s the best player on the floor. He doesn’t always seem to be thinking about anything else.
Despite a popular social media narrative, J.R. Smith has proven that he can be a valuable player on a winning team. He’s been to the playoffs in his career 10 times. He won a championship, he’s been to the conference finals 4 times and the NBA finals 3 times. Chris Paul has been to the conference finals once in his career. The idea that you can’t win with a guy like J.R. Smith is nonsense.
J.R. Smith adds value, but when he makes bonehead plays like he did the other night, he’s very hard to defend. Everyone should know the score, right? Especially during the last 5 seconds when the game is tied. It’s not that hard. So how do you get the most out of J.R. Smith? He’s got an irrational level of confidence, and that confidence is a big part of what makes him valuable to a winning team. But he loses focus, and doesn’t always make the smart play.
Worth thinking about is this – If you stayed on J.R. Smith constantly about his mental focus, would you still get the most out of him? Would he play with the same level of confidence and freedom that allows him to be a streaky scorer and playmaker who can create offense against NBA defenses? I’m not saying you just dismiss his lack of focus, you can’t. You have to hold him accountable. But if you hammer him about his mentality, would it affect his confidence and what makes him a great player? It’s a more delicate balance than many would think.
I used to have this conversation with a baseball friend of mine about Manny Ramirez. Manny is one of the best hitters baseball has ever seen. He was just a natural with a bat. But he often wasn’t focused in the field and didn’t always run hard to first base. Everyone should be able to run hard, right? But if you made Manny run hard all the time, or constantly disciplined him when he didn’t, would you get the same player at the plate every day? The point is, the mentality that made Manny such a great hitter was also the mentality that led to him jogging to first or forgetting what base to throw to on a base hit. With Manny you sometimes just took the good with the bad.
Again, I’m not defending J.R. Smith for the play he made. And if you are coaching him you have to address it. It was a huge play. But if you make a big deal out of it when he makes a mental mistake, are you taking away the mentality that helps him when he’s great? If you make J.R. Smith think too much about things when he plays, he might not play with the irrational level of confidence that helps him score in bunches when his team needs a lift.
You have to hold your players accountable to your standards. But you also have to let them be themselves to get the most out of them. With some players, you might just have to accept the bad with the good.