In the opinion of J.R. Smith, his former Cleveland Cavaliers teammate Kyrie Irving ranks as the best scorer in basketball history.
— Kyrie Center (@kyriecenterig) May 18, 2023
“There’s nothing as far as offensively, there’s nothing he can’t do with either hand,” Smith said. “He can shoot left-handed. He can shoot right-handed. He can shoot midrange. He can shoot threes, spot-ups, off the dribble. He got the best handles we’ve ever seen. He the best finisher under the basket we’ve ever seen by far. It’s not even close.
“The spin on his left hand, right hand, free-throw shooting. He a 50/40/90 dude every year. Only reason why he not ’cause of the shots he take is tough shots. There’s nobody creatively on the basketball floor that can get any shot that they want better than him.”
The lofty praise from Smith about Irving stems from the pair’s nearly three seasons as teammates with the Cavaliers from 2015 to 2017. In each of those seasons, the two players primarily shared the starting backcourt for a team that reached the finals during each season.
While opinions no doubt vary about the truth in Smith’s opinion, his up-close look at Irving gives him special insight into the on-court skills of the former Cavs great.
Of course, it was Irving who connected for the most iconic shot in Cavaliers’ history. With just under a minute remaining in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals, Irving calmly drained a 3-pointer to break a tie game and give the Cavaliers the franchise’s first and only NBA title.
Just one year later, Irving asked to be traded and was subsequently dealt in August 2017 to the Boston Celtics. Smith’s time with the Cavaliers ended the following year in a much more contentious fashion when his criticism of the team’s rebuilding resulted in his exile from the franchise.
Smith briefly resurfaced in 2020 when he joined the Los Angeles Lakers and saw modest on-court time within the pandemic-enforced bubble in Orlando, Fla. However when that year’s finals ended, Smith was part of the first Lakers’ title team in a decade.
In retirement, Smith is attending college at North Carolina A&T University and is part of the school’s golf team.
Since leaving the Cavaliers, Irving’s shooting prowess has been overshadowed by off-the-court controversy. Most notably, Irving’s opinions on the COVID-19 vaccine resulted in him being sidelined for an extended period, with Smith offering his support of Irving.
At present, Irving is a pending free agent could re-sign with the Mavericks. Wherever he ends up playing, it seems certain that Smith will continue to show his loyalty along the way.