Throughout the season, I've taken the stance that I'm ok with J.R. Smith coming off the bench as long as he gets starter's minutes and fills in a Manu Ginobili-type role. But unlike the Spurs, the Nuggets regularly fall behind out of the gate, just as they did against the Suns last night en route to their third straight loss. Therefore, it's becoming painfully evident that they can't start the game playing four-on-five anymore and JR. has to start.
And start now!
Dahntay Jones brings defensive intensity onto the court and should be applauded for giving a great effort on a nightly basis. But during the the first six to eight minutes that Jones plays in starting each game, the Nuggets fall behind almost every night while he gives the team absolutely nothing offensively. The Nuggets have been doing a lot of things wrong over the last few games and all the blame doesn't sit with Jones. But regularly digging themselves into eight, 10, or 15 point deficits and having to climb back is wearing this team down.
When Allen Iverson was here, I could understand not starting J.R. in that you would have had two shoot-first players in the backcourt. But with Chauncey Billups on board to set up J.R. and call him out for bad shots, and Linas Kleiza playing better to provide scoring punch off the bench, there's absolutely no reason not to start J.R.
Beginning with the Mavericks game that the Nuggets won last Monday night and ending with the second Trailblazers game coming up this Tuesday, this six game stretch was like a year-end final exam for our Nuggets. So far the Nuggets get a D- on the exam. They still have a chance to improve their grade by beating the Blazers twice in a row. But if they don't start J.R., I see them falling behind early again and getting worn out by the deeper, bigger Blazers.
J.R. Smith is the Nuggets X-factor that their Western Conference competitors don't possess. It's time to take full advantage of it.