Earl Joseph “J. R.” Smith III (born September 9, 1985) is an American professional basketball player who last played for the Cleveland Cavaliers of the National Basketball Association (NBA). He played high school basketball at New Jersey basketball powerhouse Saint Benedict’s Preparatory School in Newark.
In his rookie season with the Hornets, Smith averaged 10.3 points, 2.0 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game. Smith participated in the Sprite Rising Stars Slam Dunk Competition in 2005, finishing behind Amar’e Stoudemire and the eventual winner, Josh Smith. The Hornets finished the season at 18–64 and failed to qualify for the playoffs. Smith was named the Western Conference Rookie of the Month three consecutive times in 2005: in January, February and March.
In his second season in New Orleans, Smith’s numbers declined across the board, averaging 7.7 points, 2 rebounds and 1.1 assists. The Hornets spent part of the season in Oklahoma City because of Hurricane Katrina. The Hornets finished 38–44, helped by the playmaking ability of rookie Chris Paul; despite the 20-game improvement, they again missed the playoffs.
On July 14, 2006, the Hornets traded Smith and forward–center P. J. Brown to the Chicago Bulls for center Tyson Chandler On July 20, Smith was traded again, this time to the Denver Nuggets for guard Howard Eisley and two 2007 second-round draft picks.
On December 16, 2006, Smith was involved in the Knicks–Nuggets brawl. The brawl began when Mardy Collins flagrantly fouled Smith on a fast break. Smith was suspended for 10 games. On February 20, 2007, Smith suffered a torn meniscus in his left knee which required surgery; he missed several weeks. Smith averaged 13 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.4 assists in his first season with the Nuggets.
During the 2011 NBA lockout, Smith signed with the Zhejiang Golden Bulls of the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA). Because he did not secure an opt-out clause, he could not return to the NBA until the end of the 2011-12 CBA season. During his time with the Golden Bulls, Smith won a Foreign Player of the Week award, and was selected as a starter for the Southern Division All-Stars in the 2012 CBA All-Star Game, but did not play due to “personal reasons.” Individual accolades notwithstanding, Smith was unable to lead Zhejiang into the 2012 CBA Playoffs, with the squad eliminated from contention as of February 12.
In 2012, after playing in China due to the lockout, Smith signed with the New York Knicks under the bi-annual exception worth $2.4 million. Smith made his Knicks debut against the Dallas Mavericks. He scored 15 points and drained three three-pointers in the first quarter in a Knicks win. After struggling most of the season to shoot the three-pointer, the Knicks greatly improved because of Smith and the emergence of Steve Novak. Smith became a fan favorite, gaining comparisons to John Starks. He averaged 12.5 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.4 assists and a career high 1.5 steals per game with the Knicks that season. The Knicks faced the Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs, but lost 4–1. Smith averaged 12.2 points but only shot 31.6% from the field and 17.9% from three-point range.
On January 5, 2015, Smith was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers in a three-team trade that also involved the Knicks and the Oklahoma City Thunder. Cleveland received Smith and Iman Shumpert from the Knicks and a first-round pick in the 2015 NBA draft from the Thunder, while Cleveland sent Dion Waiters to Oklahoma City and Lou Amundson, Alex Kirk, and a second-round pick in the 2019 NBA draft to the Knicks, and the Thunder sent Lance Thomas to the Knicks. Two days later, he made his debut for the Cavaliers in a loss to the Houston Rockets.
On September 2, 2015, Smith re-signed with the Cavaliers. On November 23, 2015, he scored a then season-high 26 points in a 117–103 win over the Orlando Magic. On January 2, 2016, in another win over the Magic, Smith hit one three-pointer which moved him past Nick Van Exel (1,528) for 22nd place on the all-time three-pointers made list. Two days later, he scored 24 points on eight three-pointers in a 122–100 win over the Toronto Raptors.On January 8, he scored a season-high 27 points in a 125–99 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves. He matched his season high of 27 points on April 3 in a 112–103 win over the Charlotte Hornets. In Game 2 of the Cavaliers’ first round playoff series match-up with the Detroit Pistons, Smith scored 21 points and made seven of Cleveland’s NBA playoff record-tying 20 three-pointers in a 107–90 win. After sweeping Detroit, they moved on to the second round, where in Game 2 of their series against the Atlanta Hawks, Smith hit seven of the Cavaliers’ NBA record 25 three-pointers (the most in any regular season or playoff game) to help Cleveland take a 2–0 series lead over the Hawks. The Cavaliers went on to sweep the Hawks, and then defeated the Toronto Raptors 4–2 in the Eastern Conference Finals to advance to the 2016 NBA Finals. In Game 3 of the NBA Finals, with the Cavaliers down 2–0 to the Golden State Warriors, Smith scored 20 points in a 120–90 win to help the Cavaliers cut the deficit to 2–1. The Cavaliers went on to win the 2016 NBA championship, despite going down 3–1 in the series following a Game 4 loss, as Smith won his first NBA title.
Career highlights and awards
NBA champion (2016)
NBA Sixth Man of the Year (2013)
CBA scoring champion (2012)
CBA All-Star (2012)
McDonald’s All-American Game Co-MVP (2004)
Second-team Parade All-American (2004)