The Glimmer Twins

The NBA has a rich history of players being inextricably linked together – Wilt & Russell, Bird & Magic, Shaq & Kobe, Deron & Chris. Normally there is a logical reason for the coupling, either a team rivalry, a battle for positional supremacy or just good old fashioned pure hatred. However, the pairing of J.R. Smith and Josh Smith don’t fall into any of these categories. One guard, one forward. Teams aren’t rivals. Players aren’t rivals.

Nonetheless, both Smiths have been linked since they both got selected in the 2004 NBA draft (selected back-to-back, naturally). Other than the last name, they also share other characteristics too. Both were born a few months apart in 1985. Both bolted directly from high school to the NBA. Both had/have “character issues”. Both are crazy athletic. Both have the requisite tats, headbands and swagger. Both got punked by a girl in a dunk contest.

And, lo and behold, both are enjoying a career renaissance of sorts, at the ripe old age of 23. It is not as if Josh and J.R. have really changed too much – if you check the stats what they did this regular season is pretty much what they have always done. The thing that has changed is that they are now doing it on a winning team. Not only are their teams winning, but they are winning when it counts – in the playoffs. And the Smiths aren’t just along for the ride – they are key cogs in the machine. Anyone can put up big numbers on a crappy team. People notice if you do it on a winner.

J.R. seems to have settled into the perfect role for his skill set (and emotional state) – come in off the bench and tear it up. No trying to make him a ball-handler or defensive stopper or anything else. Just give him the ball and get out of the way. Let him jack up threes, dunk on guys, create havoc. Every team needs a spark plug off the bench, and that is what Smith is. Yes, he still makes bonehead plays and takes questionable shots, but with him playing limited minutes off the bench that doesn’t matter as much. He is reaching his full potential because conventional goals aren’t being thrust upon him – if he has a big game off the bench it is a bonus for the Nuggets, not something that is a necessity.

Josh, on the other hand, is a whole other kettle of fish. A freakish athlete, with good size for a wing player, but no outside shot. Can get his slashing to the hoop but also can post up. Great shot blocker. Watching him do his work versus Cleveland in Game 1 made me think of how he could be another Amar’e. Sure, he’s a bit smaller and doesn’t have the jumper, but his athleticism disrupts the game just like STATs, except Smith’s carries over to the defensive end, where he is a shot-swatting machine. But, like J.R., he is also prone to boneheadedness.

Both J.R. and Josh are probably never going to be franchise player level guys. They are both too raw and prone to outrageousness. But that is what makes them who they are. To try to smooth out their rough edges would take away what makes them special players. Like a musician that doesn’t care if some bum notes make it onto his album because they’d rather it sound raw and real. Josh and J.R. are raw and real. And they’ve proved now, deep into the playoffs, that they can contribute to a winner, flaws and all. Eventually we all grow up and learn to become productive members of society.

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