When J.R. Smith fractured his right thumb early in the season, the NBA’s defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers lost a key component of their rotation on both ends of the floor.

Gritty defense, veteran experience, and deadly accuracy from beyond the three-point line are just a few elements of Smith’s game. There is no doubt that the Cavs will have a new swagger when he is able to return to action, which should be very soon.  Smith has been cleared for contact practice drills and was upgraded to questionable for Thursday’s game against the Detroit Pistons.

The Cavs have played well without Smith all season as Iman Shumpert and DeAndre Liggins have stepped up. But the Cavs desperately need Smith on the defensive end of the floor. Cleveland is ranked 23rd in defensive rating, giving up 107.3 points per 100 possessions.

Smith won’t drastically turn around Cleveland’s defense all by himself but as King James Gospel’s Duane Rohrbacher points out, the Cavs guard is one of the better defenders on the team:

“Defense is where Smith makes the biggest impact when compared to the rest of the group. Korver has a -1.8 defensive box plus/minus (DBPM). Shumpert is not much better, regressing to a DBPM of 0.2 after a 2015-16 season where his DBPM was 1.9. Smith’s DBPM isn’t great, rating out at -0.4 last year. However, in the playoffs, Smith ratcheted it up to a 1.1.”

Cleveland has relied heavily on their stellar offense but they will need to be a staunch defensive team if they want to defend their title in the postseason. Luckily for the Cavs, they are getting Smith back at the perfect time as they can fine tune their defense heading into the playoffs.