J.R. Smith has built up a nice sized following in New York.
Around the NBA he is considered one of those guys that you bring off the bench and either ride him out while he is hot or yank him before he goes 2-for-15 and loses the game for you.
Here, in a much expanded role as a scorer, Smith had a decent year last year and a great last 15-20 games. Remembering that those two things are different though is important when discussing the Knicks chances of being a title contender with Smith being the number two scoring option.
There is this notion that Smith last year finally figured it out and utilized his talent correctly for the first time in his career. That is partly true since as previously stated he went on a tear to end the season this past year for the Knicks.
When examining his year as a whole and comparing it to other seasons it puts things in perspective though. Last year Smith shot below his career average in both FG% (43-42) and 3P% (37-36). Yes both of these differences are small but they are also almost never seen amidst a supposed career year.
Smith also set a career high in points per game with 18.1. He did this though in 33.5 minutes per game, roughly six minutes above his previous career high and eight above his career average.
When looking at his production on a per 36 minute basis, last year was the fifth most prolific scoring season for the reigning Sixth Man of the Year. Not only was his overall year offensively far from his career best, according to 82games.com, he seemingly made no impact on the Knicks offense when he played.
When on the floor, the Knicks offense put up 112.0 points per 48 minutes and 112.7 per 48 minutes when he was on the bench. If nothing else this has to make Knicks fans wonder just how valuable he is and how dependent of a second scoring option he can be.
Defensively, the Knicks were actually a little better off with Smith on the floor.
Per 48 minutes the Knicks allowed 106.4 points when Smith played and 109.3 when he didn’t. The give and take is that Smith, more often than the Knicks starters, played against the second team so that may have helped his on/off stats here but also the Knicks have few good defenders so if Smith is making a difference that is something not to take lightly.
He basically split his time at shooting guard and small forward last year (playing 35% of the Knicks overall minutes at the 2 and 30% at the 3.) and guarded shooting guards better than small forwards by a significant margin (15.9 PER-12.9 and 56 efg%-48). The problem is he performed much better at small forward offensively (19.7 PER-15.9 51 efg%-46). This means Woodson has to switch up his defense a lot so the Knicks can get Smith guarding guards while attacking forwards.
However the playoffs are where things get worrisome.
The Knicks are in a typical Knicks position where they are too over the cap to improve themselves but in an in-conference position (anywhere for 3-5 seed) where they need to improve themselves. In all likelihood the Knicks will play out next season and head into the playoffs with Carmelo Anthony and Smith asked to carry much of the scoring load.
In the regular season, this isn’t a bad idea, the Knicks did have the third best offense in the NBA last year but in the playoffs it is another story.
Come mid-April and May, Smith is far from the performer he is in the regular season. For his career Smith shoots 39 percent from the field and 31 percent from three. His WS/48 (win shares per 48 minutes) get cut in half from .096 to .043 in the playoffs and his PER is that of a below average NBA player (13.2, average is 15).
A baseball team the Knicks share the city with, the Yankees have a similar problem with players where they perform very well in the first 162 games and not so well in October. This is because in both cases teams cannot prepare too much for any one player on any team in the regular season but in the playoffs only the good teams are left and they can key in on their opponents strengths and weaknesses.
In a league where six of the top 10 and eight of the top 15 defenses are currently in the Eastern Conference, (including teams the Knicks will almost definitely meet in the playoffs, the Bulls and Pacers) Smith’s continual playoff swoon does not bode well for the Knicks’ championship aspirations.
Overall the Knicks have a very good sixth man off the bench in Smith who they are trying to use as their second scoring option. Players like Smith, who can fluctuate by 40 percent from the field on a night to night basis will leave teams exposed when they are shooting poorly.
The Knicks though, don’t appear to have another option at the moment.