The JR Smith/Dion Waiters Power Rankings: Oscars Edition

This week's Smith/Waiters power rankings features an unexpected appearance from someone who is neither JR Smith nor Dion Waiters, among other surprises.
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JR Smith and Dion Waiters are two of the NBA’s most interesting character actors. After last Sunday’s Academy Awards, the committee decided to roll out a special Oscars edition of the JR Smith/Dion Waiters Power Rankings. Each participant will be paired with the movie, character, or actor that most suits him. Read the first installment here.

1) JR Smith: Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight (Daisy Domergue)

AS: There’s no doubt dozens or at the very least eight or so of Hollywood’s leading men would kill for the combustible and galvanizing screen presence of JR Smith. He’s a lean hot mess, a maniac with a heart full of napalm that could conceivably be mistaken for Tom Hardy in Mad Max: Fury Road, assuming you can suspend disbelief long enough to imagine JR ceding multiple clutch possessions to Charlize Theron. There’s also Leonardo DiCaprio’s almost embarrassing pursuit of a Best Actor award, which is dramatized in his latest film, the classic story of a man with a boogery beard, in the snow obsessively chasing another man through the snow for the crime of doing him wrong. The second man is Tom Hardy, previously mentioned earlier in this column.

JA: I assume Leo and JR have discussed these things in person, as the club manager tries to convince them that morning crew is coming in to clean up and they “really do have to leave this time.”

AS: No, despite JR’s bona fide bonanza numbers since the milquetoast scourge of David Blatt was exorcised, he’ll never have the pull of a five-o’clock-shadowed leading man, and will never be the sort of dude that can anchor a two-hour-plus appraisal of the boundaries of the human will. He’s a supporting piece, but that absolutely doesn’t mean he’s window dressing or glorified eye candy. He isn’t the sort of peripheral character that is shy about getting the ball rolling. If JR sees a ball he will roll it, dunk it, or sext it, but no matter what course he takes you can be assured the ball will never be the same. Sometimes it will take the ball years to undo the damage.

Which brings us to Jennifer Jason Leigh’s spare and menacing portrayal of Daisy Domergue in The Hateful Eight. In the off chance that you are afraid of spoilers, you should stop reading exactly six or seven words from now. While several characters unravel and unpack secrets and uncover and unmask aliases and covert alliances over the course of the film, one member of the eponymous Hateful Eight is actually who she says she is. Daisy is no good, but she’s also a celebrated and adored member of a bloodthirsty gang of renegades and at no point is that in question. She’s chained to a crass abusive bastard with ersatz authority and she takes her frankly gratuitous beating with a smile. Just as JR will often dunk backwards because why not, so too will Daisy disturb the harmony of an already taut situation by strumming a ditty taunting her captor with death.

JR, like Daisy, can’t help but spit blood and broken teeth into the eye of the world, even from a position of relative weakness. The infernos inside of them that roar and rage and time their escapes are not braggadocio but vows—You have wronged me, and you may never understand the extent to which you have wronged me, but you will know that I have not forgotten, because one day you will get sloppy, and I will escape these chains. And either kill you or hit 6-of-13 threes in a single game.

JR and Daisy share a gift for wriggling out of almost doomed circumstances with bombastic yet effective gestures. As a media-appointed knucklehead, JR has never once been given the benefit of the doubt, and his occasional forays into demi-god mode were discounted as a broken clock being right twice a day. His flirtation with flagrants and a shot selection that sometimes can be charitably described as avant-garde are reflexively anathema to a society based upon law and order, but there’s no place for goddamn law and order on the court.

Folks like JR are just less concerned with playing for the plaudits of a decadent commentariat. Both Daisy and JR know the game is rigged, and they act accordingly. A staid by-the-books operator with JR’s exact skill-set would be just another bozo buried deep on the bench, politely hoisting open looks and wondering if a one-handed dunk is too ostentatious. Jennifer Jason Leigh’s performance speaks to the tangles of seemingly simple frontier justice, as well as the hidden advantage that the disadvantaged and seemingly weak amongst us can secretly wield—it’s what Michel Foucault might describe as power that is embodied rather than possessed. JR Smith embodies that same sort of power, the weird and violent power of a handcuffed and outnumbered woman who makes shit happen just by being alive.

As Daisy says in that moment when nothing will ever again be the same, “When you get to hell, {REDACTED}, tell them Daisy sent you.”

JR Smith almost certainly says a slight variation of this every time he swishes an absurdly idiotic shot. Bless this mess.

2.) Billy Donovan: Liev Schreiber, Spotlight (Marty Baron) **previous ranking: n/a**

JA: Only Dion Waiters could manage to avoid a top-two placement in a power rankings that consists solely of him and one other person. The committee came to this controversial decision because when Waiters follows up two atrociously poor performances—on a combined 1-14 shooting, he put up four points—with two excellent performances (combined 6-10 on three-pointers, 22 points) the credit shouldn't go as much to him as to the man who is courageous enough to keep playing him.

Thunder coach Billy Donovan is a rookie NBA coach. He’s an outsider that was given the reins to one of the most talented teams in the NBA. Their franchise player will be a free agent in about six months, and the blame for anything less than a title will fall squarely on Donovan’s shoulders.

AS: As it should. On the other hand, he has a very nice widow’s peak.

JA: In Spotlight, Liev Schreiber played Marty Baron, the newly appointed editor-in-chief of the Boston Globe. He was a Jewish outsider taking over the biggest newspaper in the predominantly Catholic city of Boston.

The public wanted Donovan to solve the puzzle of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant’s seemingly contradicting styles of play. But coaching Westbrook and Durant is a lot like watching Westbrook and Durant play basketball while standing in relative proximity with a tie on. Coaching Dion Waiters? That takes nuance. Hell, even joking about playing Dion Waiters for 31 minutes against the Warriors is inviting the kind of criticism that might make it tough for Donovan’s family to show their faces at any of Oklahoma City’s (so many) IHOP franchises without being subjected to petty ridicule. Would allocating some of those minutes towards the development of promising rookie Cam Payne have made more logical sense? Sure, but Donovan isn’t looking for a future Reggie Jackson. He’s looking for real time glimpses of James Harden, much to the chagrin of Thunder faithful. This isn’t quite Baron sending Keaton, McAdams, and Ruffalo to attack the Catholic church, the one Boston entity that is literally too sacred to oppose, but it’s bold.

Before the Thunder faced Dallas last week I asked Donovan about Waiters’ recent (and typical) shooting woes. This was his response:

“I’ve always said this: In the NBA, with the shot clock at 24 seconds, you have to have guys that can generate and get off good shots. The clock gets down to seven seconds or five seconds and the ball’s in his hands, you want to be able to get off a fairly decent shot and Dion’s got the ability to do that. But I think to your point, Dion has not shot the ball well over the past couple games, but there are other things I think he does do that helps our team... I think when Dion doesn’t focus on the scoring part and focuses on some other things I think he’s really effective. He battles defensively on the ball really good.  I like the numbers, and I look at them, but also when you’re watching film there are things that go on that you’re not necessarily able to calculate and figure out. And I think Dion is one of those guys that does do some of those things.”

Sound like a forced rationalization that Dion Waiters is a good NBA player? A few hours later Waiters scored 11 fourth quarter points to ignite a 31-7 run that led OKC past Dallas.

Here’s a quote from Liev Schreiber/Marty Baron in Spotlight:

“Sometimes it’s easy to forget that we spend most of our time stumbling around the dark. Suddenly, a light gets turned on and there’s a fair share of blame to go around.”

True leaders aren’t afraid to gamble on someone who looks like they are perpetually stumbling around the dark. True leaders are wise enough to roll the dice.

3.) Dion Waiters: The Housing Market: The Big Short

**previous ranking: 1st**

JA: This isn’t going to end well.

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